The National Weather Service has issued a winter storm warning for Juneau as the capital city prepares to receive what may be its heaviest snowfall in two years.
The warning, issued at 11 a.m. Tuesday morning and updated in the afternoon, says Juneau and the northern inner channels of the Alaska Panhandle will receive 8 to 14 inches of snow through Wednesday afternoon.
By 3:40 p.m. Tuesday afternoon, 4.1 inches of snow had been recorded at Juneau International Airport, which appeared on pace to break the record for that date of 6.0 inches, set in 2005.
In measurements between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. Tuesday morning, Weather Service meteorologists recorded an inch of snow an hour in the Mendenhall Valley, forecaster Richard Lam said by phone.
“We got two inches in less than two hours,” he said.
Lam said the closest analogy to Juneau’s expected snowfall is the lake-effect precipitation that falls on Buffalo, New York, and other cities near the Great Lakes.
“Right now, there are lots of showers in the Gulf of Alaska,” Lam explained. At the same time, cold air is creeping south out of Interior Alaska and the Yukon.
“You have the cold air above the really warm air near the water,” he said.
In some cases, the resulting snow showers deposit their precipitation on the outer Gulf coast or die out completely, Lam said.
This time, a front over Southeast Alaska is drawing the showers farther east, through Icy Strait and toward the Coast Range and Juneau.
Juneau is at just the right spot for heavy snowfall, Lam said. If the cold air pushes a little farther south, it saps the moisture from the air and Juneau doesn’t get the snow. If the cold air is a little farther north, the snow falls as rain. If the front isn’t around, the precipitation falls farther west.
“It looks like we have high confidence in this storm bringing heavy snow,” Lam said.
While these “ocean effect” snowstorms aren’t uncommon in Juneau or the rest of coastal Alaska, this will be the first significant snowstorm in the capital city since 2013. Last winter, a February storm dropped more than 9 inches of snow on Juneau, bucking what had been a trend toward a record low-snow winter.
Heavy snow has already been seen in Yakutat, which exited a winter storm warning at 4 p.m. Tuesday afternoon. Between midnight and 4 p.m. Tuesday, Yakutat airport recorded 10.6 inches of snow, and the Weather Service expected another 1-2 inches to fall at the airport before Wednesday morning.
In Elfin Cove and Pelican, the Weather Service has issued a winter weather advisory that calls for 6-10 inches of snowfall through Wednesday afternoon.
On Tuesday afternoon, the Juneau Police Department reported multiple slide-off car crashes and fender-benders, particularly on Egan Drive. “Egan Drive is very icy,” the department reported on Twitter. “JPD and (Capital City Fire/Rescue) are working multiple accidents between JDHS and Fred Meyer.”
On Juneau’s busiest thoroughfare, Egan Drive, a crash stopped outbound traffic about 4:30 p.m. near Highland Drive, just as the evening rush hour began. No injuries were immediately reported.
Through Tuesday afternoon, Juneau had seen 5.2 inches of snowfall this winter, about 1.4 inches below normal for this point in the year.