A worker walks on the pier near Douglas Island Pink and Chum Inc's Macaulay Salmon Hatchery Thursday afternoon. Ice has formed on the Gastineau Channel amid frigid temperatures brought on by a high pressure ridge over mainland Alaska and Western Canada. (Dana Zigmund / Juneau Empire)

Bitter cold temperatures flirt with record lows

A strong high-pressure ridge over mainland Alaska brings frigid air to Southeast

Bundle up, it’s cold outside.

Temperatures around Juneau dipped into the negative territory, reaching 5 degrees below zero at the airport Wednesday morning. According to Wes Adkins, lead meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in Juneau, that makes it the coldest morning in twelve years, but not quite cold enough to break the 1951 record of 8 degrees below zero.

“We’ve got a really strong high-pressure ridge over mainland Alaska and Western Canada and low pressure in the Pacific with no weather systems to move cold air out of the interior,” Adkins said in a phone interview on Thursday.

Adkins said the Mendenhall Valley saw a low of minus 14 Wednesday morning. Downtown Juneau was the lone spot above zero. Temperatures held tight at 2 degrees downtown, missing the 1979 record of 1 degree below zero.

Alaska Science Forum: Alaska’s all-time cold record turns 50

“Normal temperature is a high of 35 and a low of 25,” Adkins said. “We are carrying about seven inches of snow on the ground.”

He explained that the bright sun and snow lead to colder air.

“The more clear the skies, the more radiation loss we get. The snowpack keeps the radiation from the sun from absorbing into the ground. It creates a feedback process where the sun shines onto the snow and reflects that back into space. Because of our sun angle, we lose warmth all day when that happens,” Adkins said.

Keep your winter gear handy

Strong winds into Thursday morning did bring warmer temperatures.

“We were windy all night long, so we never got the really cold temperatures Thursday,” Adkins said, explaining that the strong winds broke the inversion that caused the cold by mixing the atmosphere.

“I’m a lot more confident of a warm-up leading into the weekend. The negative 5 is probably the coldest we will get,” Adkins said.

In addition to warmer air, snow is in the forecast.

“After a big, Arctic cold snap, snow usually comes with the warm-up,” Adkins said, noting a chance of snow on Sunday, with likelihood growing into next week.

Contact Dana Zigmund at dana.zigmund@juneauempire.com or 907-308-4891.

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