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Natural Perspectives: Severe weather affects more than you know

January 25, 2012|By Vic Leipzig and Lou Murray
  • San Jacinto Wildlife Area, east of Riverside in the Hemet area.
San Jacinto Wildlife Area, east of Riverside in the Hemet… (Lou Murray, HB Independent )

While we luxuriate here in Southern California under bright and balmy skies, Alaska is on course for its snowiest winter ever. Vic and I expect Alaska to be snowy in the winter, but the amount of snow that they're getting up there is truly mind-boggling.

As of two weeks ago, Valdez, Alaska, already had received 318 inches of snow this season. If you do the math, that comes out to 26.5 feet of snow, enough to bury most houses in Huntington Beach over the roof ridge. They've had to call out the National Guard to unbury houses up there.

Normally, Valdez gets 305 to 326 inches of snow during the entire winter, making it the snowiest city in Alaska. An amount of 318 inches of snow by early January is astounding. They still have many, many weeks of winter ahead of them, with February and March often being the snowiest months.

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According to meteorologists, two years of La Niña conditions have conspired with the Arctic Oscillation to starve the lower 48 states of snow this winter, dumping it on Alaska instead. That will not bode well for our summer water supply, as we get a lot of it from winter snowpack in the Sierra and Rocky mountains. If snow is scarce, the reservoirs come up short.

It is amazing how interconnected things are in the natural world. Severe snowstorms in Alaska may translate to water shortages for Huntington Beach come next summer.

Those storms tend to move south.

Last week, Seattle had snow that was so intense the airport closed. We know, because we were up there visiting relatives in Portland, and our flights first were connecting in Seattle.

We flew out in the nick of time mere hours before they closed the airport. Luckily, we escaped the worst of the storm but the bumpiness of the flight reminded me of the big Russian jet taking off over Las Vegas in the movie "2012."

One effect of severe weather is to push bird life ahead of it. In fact, there were several unusual birds in the Portland area while we were up there.

I checked eBird on my iPad and discovered that some snow buntings had been reported in Portland. Snow buntings are beautiful little birds that are mostly white. This helps them blend in with their Arctic tundra habitat. They normally winter in Canada and the upper Midwest, but a flock had strayed to Portland.

Vic and I looked for them, but didn't find them.

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