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WEIRD | Wintry weather

Weird weather: Texas out-snowing parts of Alaska this year

Caroline Floyd

Monday, October 15, 2018, 3:02 PM - Trivia buff alert: Which city saw the first snowfall this season, Fairbanks, Alaska, or Amarillo, Texas? Sounds like a question that should have an obvious answer, but the weather this fall has been anything but ordinary across much of the continent, with historic hurricanes and record-smashing snowfall. And now we can add another weird stat to the list, as the Texas Panhandle welcomed the white stuff ahead of their northern cousins.

2018 now marks the latest first snowfall on record for Fairbanks, where they've yet to see a single flake. Previously, the latest first snowfall was October 10th, back in 1934, and the average first snowfall comes around October 1st. Under the influence of a 'mega-ridge' of high pressure off the Pacific coast, Alaska's been seeing an unusually -- remarkably -- mild fall thus far.

On the flip side of the coin, Texas might not be the spot that springs to mind when you think 'early snowfall', either, but parts of the Panhandle reported a dusting this week. Frequently swiped by developing Colorado and (aptly-named) Texas lows in the winter, the Panhandle is no stranger to snow and ice, but spots like Amarillo typically don't see the flakes fly until late November, on average.

This is the second-earliest snowfall on record for Amarillo, topped only by a late-September snow in 1984, and one of only two October snowfalls in the past 20 years. It also puts the southern city ahead of both Toronto and Montreal when it comes to the race to winter; neither city has reported snow yet this year, although the flake-watch is now on across southern Ontario.

The same western ridge in the jet stream keeping Alaska warm is also partly to blame for Amarillo's abnormal chill. It's a case of 'what goes up, must come down' with the jet stream pattern across the continent, and as high pressure bulges northward and keeps temperatures mild along the coast, low pressure digs southward on the eastern side of the Rockies and lets cool air pool south. That cold pool won't come as a surprise to residents of Alberta, who've also seen significant early snowfall and below-average temperatures so far this season.

This kind of pattern isn't in and of itself unusual for autumn in North America; what's been out of the ordinary this year is the intensity, persistence, and the resilience of the pattern.


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