Rain Levels in Alaska Predicted to Increase Drastically

Jun 12, 2014

A recent study predicts more rain than snow for the rest of the 21st century in Alaska. The study used 10 years of weather forecasts and focused on the areas in Alaska that receive the most snow. 

Southwest Alaska saw the most dramatic results in the report published in the journal Hydrological Processes earlier this month.  It predicted that under the most extreme warming scenarios, southwest Alaska’s precipitation would be three-quarters rain in February. 

Assistant professor of geography at the University of Nevada Reno Stephanie McAfee is the lead author of the report.  She says the amount of rain predicted for any given time depends on a couple of factors.

“In the parts of the state where it’s already relatively warm during the winter and the late spring, south west and east Alaska, those are areas where there could be a shift from snowier to rainier conditions depending on the climate projection that we use.  So it would depend on the scenario, how much greenhouse gases were emitted, and it would depend on the model.”

McAfee says more rain in the winter could affect the wildlife.  She says the lack of snow could have an effect on caribou and moose populations; with no or little snow on the ground, it will be easier for caribou and moose to eat and survive through the winter.

The weather will also make traveling difficult.  McAfee says the state will be seeing more and more precipitation as time goes on.  She says serious problems may arise when rains falls on snow and freezes, creating nasty driving conditions. 

The effect of global warming is seen in the study, McAfee says, however, she is hoping that with the publication of studies like this the conversation will shift from year-to-year observations and look at bigger patterns. 

“Most of the results we were presenting in the study were for the end of the 21st century at which point, global warming should be having an influence, assuming that we keep emitting greenhouse gasses at the rate we are.  Because of the way the study was set up, all those changes we were seeing in the distribution of rain versus snow are about it getting warmer.”

McAfee says the study doesn’t apply necessarily to her lifetime.  However, it will be important in the next century, so attention should be paid now.