Cold Pacific cycle dramatically cooling northwestern North America

By: By Craig Medred, Anchorage Daily News (more on icecap.us)
By: By Craig Medred, Anchorage Daily News (more on icecap.us)

Two hundred years of glacial shrinkage in Alaska, and then came the winter and summer of 2007-2008. Unusually large amounts of winter snow were followed by unusually chill temperatures in June, July and August. “In mid-June, I was surprised to see snow still at sea level in Prince William Sound,” said U.S. Geological Survey glaciologist Bruce Molnia. “On the Juneau Icefield, there was still 20 feet of new snow on the surface of the Taku Glacier in late July. At Bering Glacier, a landslide I am studying, located at about 1,500 feet elevation, did not become snow free until early August.

“In general, the weather this summer was the worst I have seen in at least 20 years.” Never before in the history of a research project dating back to 1946 had the Juneau Icefield witnessed the kind of snow buildup that came this year. It was similar on a lot of other glaciers too. “It’s been a long time on most glaciers where they’ve actually had positive mass balance,” Molnia said. That’s the way a scientist says the glaciers got thicker in the middle.

Cold temperatures set several new record lows this weekend, including a low of 22 Saturday in downtown Pendleton, Oregon that broke a 118 year-old record of 24. Record lows started falling Thursday with a new low of 20 for Meacham, four degrees cooler than the previous record from 2006, according to information from the Web site for the National Weather Service Forecast Office in Pendleton.

In northern California, a record cold snap in Mendocino County over the weekend caused little damage to wine grapes but chilled the hearts of farmers who already have suffered huge losses this year. “It’s just one more thing on top of one more thing. You kind of hold your breath,” said Potter Valley wine grape grower Bill Pauli. Temperatures dropped to 31 degrees in the Ukiah Valley on Saturday night and early Sunday morning, the coldest Oct. 12 morning since record keeping began in Ukiah in 1893, said Troy Nicolini, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Eureka. The previous record was 34 degrees in 1916.

Farmers in Redwood Valley and other cooler regions in Mendocino County reported temperatures as low as 27 degrees. An estimated 30 percent to 50 percent of that county’s wine grape crop had yet to be harvested when the frost hit, killing the tops of unprotected vines and effectively freezing the ripening process.


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