Snowtown shivers on bare ground this December
It’s December. That means Valdez should be knee deep, or even chin deep, in snow. But this year, the National Weather Service is reporting a snow depth of a paltry four inches in town. On the oh-so-close mountainside, there is more bare ground visible than white, and right outside of town, it is hard to find more than a few scattered patches of packed ice.
Last year at this time, Valdez had over fourteen inches of snow by December 3.
The weather service says November was not much more encouraging. The town averages 42.6 inches of snow yearly in November. Last month, barely an inch fell.
This is bad news for winter sports enthusiasts and terrible news for townspeople that earn winter incomes from snow. From ski guide operators to snow shovelers and plow operators, the drought of snow has produced a drought of income going into the holiday season.
The town is also experiencing a drought of rain. The weather service says Valdez normally averages just a hair under 4.5 inches of rain each November. Last month, only 1.02 inches of rain fell.
Before anyone gets to dreaming about spending the cash they might be saving on snow removal for other things, they might be better off setting the money aside for higher power costs in the months to come.
Temperatures been a little (or sometimes a lot) colder than usual for several weeks. That often means higher fuel and electrical costs. That can be especially true this year, where there is little or no snow insulation to help keep pipes thawed when the ground freezes deeper and deeper.
If the trend continues, the lack of snow pack could also adversely affect the water reservoir that feeds the Solomon Gulch Hydroelectric Plant - and its cheap electricity.
The current lack of snow and rain comes on the heels of a very wet September. While much of Southcentral Alaska flooded, Valdez kept afloat, but just barely.
The weather service reported 26.15 inches of rain in Valdez for September 2012, well above the average September rainfall of 9.61 inches.
The almost non-stop rain caused several mudslides along the Richardson Highway and prompted many homeowners in the 10 Mile area to seek city help in sandbagging properties. The first deluge caused the Solomon Gulch Hydro Plant on Dayville Road to overflow, while other waterways throughout Valdez filled to brink. ADOT was forced to close the Richardson Highway through Keystone Canyon at one point, when the Lowe River rose to lap at area bridges. The last large-scale emergency hit September 23, when the Glacier Stream – fueled by an extreme deluge of excess water – changed its course and cut into the dump road.
Many believed this winter would follow the snow pattern of last winter, when Valdez saw snow of near-epic proportions.
The town coped with 152.2 inches of snowfall in December alone, and reached 327.1 inches in the last week of January, exceeding the town’s yearly winter snowfall average of 320 inches.
The snow season ended last winter with an impressive 437.9 inches of snow.
With several months of snow season yet to occur, snow lovers and workers alike will have a long-while yet to say whether or not the snow season will be a bust or boom.