• Glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park

    Kenai Fjords

    National Park Alaska

April 2012 Weather Summary

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Date: May 10, 2012
Contact: Deb Kurtz, (907) 422-0544

April led Kenai Fjords further into spring with near normal temperatures and below normal precipitation. As recorded at the Seward airport, total precipitation for the month was 2.84 inches (63% of normal), 1.68 inches below the monthly average. The monthly average temperature was 38.3 degrees F; only 0.4 degrees F below the 30- year average (1981-2010) for this month. April 26th was the warmest day of the month with a high of 61 degrees F; April 8th was the coldest day with a low of 21 degrees F. The highest wind gusts of the month were recorded on April 2nd when the Seward airport recorded a maximum wind gust of 36 mph. This was also the windiest day of the month at the Seward airport with an average wind speed of 14.4 mph.

Although Sewardites are looking forward to the longer, warmer days of summer and all the activities they bring, the remnant snow piles in town and the buried lawns outside of town remind us of the recent snowy winter that felt like a record-breaker. Based on the persistent snowpack at lower elevations (54 inches at Exit Glacier on May 4th), researchers conducting field work on the Harding Icefield last month anticipated a deeper snowpack at high elevations as well. However, spring snowpack at sites on the northern end of the icefield were normal for the three years the study has been in progress; snow samples revealed more snow and water equivalent than spring 2011, but not as much as spring 2010. This led one to ponder, "Why wouldn't there be a proportionately greater snowpack at high elevations as at low elevations?" Previous tallies of this winter's precipitation focused on snowfall, which were discussed in the March weather summary. A second look at temperature and precipitation, (measured in water equivalent, not as snowfall) at the Seward airport revealed that this past winter was generally dryer and cooler than normal. Without complete data for January, a seasonal average or seasonal departure from normal cannot be calculated. However, the table below summarizes monthly temperature and precipitation departures for months with measurable snowfall.

In summary, all of the winter months (except February) in which precipitation data was sufficiently recorded at the Seward airport experienced drier than normal conditions but, because of the colder than normal temperatures, that which fell arrived mostly as snow and was able to persist and accumulate throughout the season. The end result was an impressive snowpack that, regardless of whether it broke records, indeed made for a memorable winter. Without the cold temperatures, this probably would have seemed more like a typical Seward winter. Therefore, although it was the snow that made the memory, it was the temperature that made the difference.

Winter 2011-12 Monthly Departure from Normal

   Temperature  Precipitation
November  -7.4 degrees F  -4.4 inches
December  -2.7 degrees F  -0.96 inches
January  Insufficient data Insufficient data
February  +2.8 degrees F  +2.05 inches
March  -4.9 degrees F  -2.33 inches

Also of note:

  • The National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center's three month weather outlook (May-June-July) favors normal temperatures and normal precipitation for the Kenai Fjords area.
  • Science Daily reports on new research indicating that ecosystems dependent on snowy winters are most threatened by climate change.
  • National Geographic reports on increased threats to water quality in Inuit communities in northern Canada as a result of climate change.
  • Melting permafrost may not be the only northern source of methane. NASA researchers have discovered that the Arctic Ocean is contributing to increased levels of methane in the lower atmosphere over the Arctic. Read more in Bits of Science
  • NOAA climate services portal serves as a single point-of-entry for NOAA's extensive climate information, data, products, services, and the climate science magazine ClimateWatch.
  • Additional, detailed climate information is available from the UAF Alaska Climate Research Center monthly state-wide summaries http://akclimate.org/Summary/current_sum.html

More information about the local climate for April 2012

Did You Know?

River Otter

River otters defecate in certain spots to mark their territory. Researchers in Kenai Fjords National Park have discovered that these "latrine sites" enrich the soil, allowing plants to grow in those spots that aren't found anywhere else close by.