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How does this weekend’s snow storm stack up? It’s complicated

Snow airport _ Poux
Sabine Poux
Victoria Schoenheit and Connie Douglas, of Juneau, wait for a flight Monday out of the Kenai Municipal Airport, where the National Weather Service has a weather station.

There was so much snow on the central Kenai Peninsula today that Beemun’s Variety store did something it almost never does.

“We’ve been open 34 years, I want to say now, that we have never taken a snow day,” said owner Steve Beeson.

He said he decided to close the Soldotna store this morning since the parking lot wasn’t plowed and employees felt unsafe driving in. He measured about 20 inches in his yard today — more snow at one time than he’s seen in his four decades-plus on the Kenai Peninsula.

“The most I ever remember was 12 inches,” he said.

Much of the Kenai Peninsula ground to a halt today. All but four Kenai Peninsula Borough School District schools were closed or had delays, as plowers got snow out of the roads Monday.

Forecaster Eric Drewitz with the National Weather Service said as of 11 a.m., communities along the coast of the Kenai Peninsula had between 20 to 25 inches of fresh snow.

Inland, those totals ranged between 15 and 20 inches. The more temperate southern Kenai Peninsula saw between 7 to 15 inches, Drewitz said.

By all accounts, it was the most snow Southcentral has seen in a while.

“Definitely the best snow event I’ve seen since I started working here,” in 2019, Drewitz said.

But it’s hard to find the climate data to conclusively back that up. Many sites around Alaska don’t keep consistent snowfall records year to year — including Kenai.

That’s because the weather service used to have local citizen observers who took daily snow measurements in communities around Alaska, the old-fashioned way, said Brian Brettschneider, a climatologist with the National Weather Service Alaska Region. He said that changed when the weather service brought in a new automated weather system — called an Automated Surface Observation System, or ASOS — two decades ago.

“Once you put in the automated system, you didn’t need someone to go look at the thermometer every hour. Equipment did all that,” he said. “But what we found is equipment is really poor at measuring snowfall and snow depth."

In 1998, snow measurements at the Kenai Municipal Airport stopped. Today, citizen measurements are more infrequent.

“It is ironic, especially for Alaska, that in the land of snow, we have less information about snow, really, than we ever have in the past,” Brettschneider said.

Anchorage still has a human meteorologist who takes daily snow-depth measurements multiple times a day. Drewitz, the forecaster, said this month so far has been one of the snowiest Decembers on record for Anchorage. He said the city got 22.4 inches of snowfall between Dec. 1 and Dec. 11, according to measurements taken at Ted Stevens International Airport. That data lags only behind 1998, when Anchorage saw 27.2 inches in that same span.

He also said Anchorage is having one of its wettest years on record, with 27 inches of precipitation to date. While snowfall data accounts for the inches of snow on the ground, measurements of precipitation account for how much water the area received if the snow had fallen as rain.

“Year to date, we’re now in first place,” Drewitz said.

Brettschneider said those inches of water matter. He said the amount of moisture Southcentral saw this storm was higher than usual, and that the snow weighs more than most 20-inch snows because of the high water content.

As a result, he said snow loading could pose an issue to Alaska homeowners later in the season, as snow continues to build on their roofs. Southcentral Alaska is expected to getmore snow later this week.

Sabine Poux is a producer and reporter for the Brave Little State podcast of Vermont Public. She was formerly news director and evening news host at KDLL in Kenai.

Originally from New York, Sabine has lived and reported in Argentina and Vermont and Kenai.
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