Snow Surveys in Denali

By Pam Sousanes (last updated April, 2016)
a snow covered river

NPS Photo / Kaitlin Thoresen

Snow surveys include ground measurements at snow courses or aerial surveys where an observer will fly by a marker and count the exposed crossbars to determine the snow depth.

2014-2015 Snow Survey

In the winter of 2014-2015, park staff conducted snow surveys in Denali during the survey window (last 3 days of each month) during the winter season. Thirteen snow courses and aerial snow markers were surveyed throughout the season.

The first persistent snow came on September 30, 2014 at park headquarters and the last day of snow for the season was April 30, 2015. The total snowfall for the season was 44.6 inches, which is only 58% of normal. January was the snowiest month of the 2014-2015 season. The other winter months had snowfall totals that were well below normal, except for April which was near normal.

The first day of persistent snow at Kantishna was on October 3, 2014 and the last day was May 6, 2015. By December 1, Kantishna had 13 inches of snow on the ground. By February that had increased to 21inches of snow. The first persistent snow at the Tokositna Valley site on the south side of the Alaska Range was October 26, 2014. Early season snow on the south side of the range was below normal and continued that way through most of the winter. On February 1st the Tokositna Valley site had 28 inches of snow on the ground, normal is 48 inches.

February and March were dry months in interior Alaska, but due to January snowfalls the snowpack was near normal on the north side of the Alaska Range. The south side snow markers were ~ 60% of normal. Warm temperatures in April and May caused most of the snowpack across the state to diminish quickly. The south side markers were well below normal at the end of the season with snow depths between 40-60% of normal. On May 1 there was17 inches of snow at Tokositna Valley, normal is 44 inches. The total precipitation for the winter season at Tokositna was 15.5 inches from October 1- May 1, which is 72% of normal. At Kantishna the winter total precipitation was 4.4 inches, 88% of normal.

2013-2014 Snow Survey

In the winter of 2013-2014, park staff conducted snow surveys in Denali during the survey window (last 3 days of each month) during the winter season. Thirteen snow courses and aerial snow markers were surveyed throughout the season. The following narrative describes the 2013-2014 season:

The first persistent snow came on October 29, 2013 at park headquarters and the last day of snow for the season was May 6, 2014. The total snowfall for the season was 54.3 inches, which is 70% of normal. November was the snowiest month followed by January. The other winter months had snowfall totals that were well below normal.

The first day of persistent snow at Kantishna was on September 27, 2013 and the last day was May 6, 2014. By December 1, Kantishna had 12 inches of snow on the ground with a snow water equivalent (swe) of 2.3 inches. By February that had increased to 18 inches of snow with 3.8 inches of swe, which is 119% of normal. On the south side of the range the early season snow depths ranged between 14 inches at Chelatna Lake to 51 inches at the higher elevation site at Dutch Hills, above normal for the early measurements. Snow continued to fall through January and February and sites on the north side of the range were near normal. The south side received very little snow during the same time and the conditions by the end of February showed that most of the sites were well below normal.

March was a dry month in interior Alaska, but due to the earlier snowfalls the snowpack was near normal on the north side of the Alaska Range. The south side snow markers were about 83% of normal. The snowpack across most of the state greatly diminished across the state. Due to warm temperatures during the second half of April, most low elevation sites in the Interior, Western Alaska, Southcentral and Southeast Alaska have melted out. The Dutch Hills site on the south side was the only site that was above normal for the last survey on the first of May. The other sites had melted out some and had snow depths that were between 30 and 70% of normal. There was 14 inches of snow at Tokositna Valley on May 1, last year there was 44 inches on the same date.