Science Shorts: Research team seeks winter rain projections

This week, IARC scientists are presenting their work alongside thousands of colleagues from around the world at the 2021 American Geophysical Union fall meeting. These Science Shorts, first published in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, highlight some of that work. You can also find out more about UAF at AGU by searching for #UAFxAGU on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Not much creates chaos in a northern city like an unexpected winter rain, which often causes icy roads, power outages and school closures.

By using existing data and future climate projections, a research team is working to determine just how common winter rainfall could become in Anchorage, Fairbanks and the Yukon’s Whitehorse as the climate changes. That information could help communities better plan and prepare for those icy events in the decades ahead.

“We’re curious how those events are going to change in the future,” said Peter Bieniek, a research assistant professor at the International Arctic Research Center.

Other researchers on the project include UAF’s Rick Thoman, NOAA’s Brian Brettschneider, and the University of Alaska Anchorage’s Jennifer Schmidt and Rachel Roberts.

Winter rain has been fairly common in Anchorage and rare in Whitehorse, with Fairbanks in between. But models agree that more is on the way for all three communities, Bieniek said.

Using historical data from news sources, vehicle accident reports, road maintenance records and weather observations, researchers gauged the frequency of winter rain events in each community. They’re pairing that information with climate models to project the frequency of winter rainfall for the next 50 years.

But translating that into real-world conditions is complex. When it rains, will temperatures be cold enough to turn it to ice on roadways? If such questions can be answered, maps will be provided to the three communities to give them a sense of the potential hazards ahead.

Registered for AGU? View Bieniek’s AGU abstract. Learn about other presentations at AGU by IARC researchers and students.