sun, 22-feb-2015, 11:33

Last night we got a quarter of an inch of rain at our house, making roads “impassable” according to the Fairbanks Police Department, and turning the dog yard, deck, and driveway into an icy mess. There are videos floating around Facebook showing Fairbanks residents playing hockey in the street in front of their houses, and a reported seven vehicles off the road on Ballaine Hill.

Here’s a video of a group of Goldstream Valley musicians ice skating on Golstream Road: http://youtu.be/_afC7UF0NXk

Let’s check out the weather database and take a look at how often Fairbanks experiences this type of event, and when they usually happen. I’m going to skip the parts of the code showing how we get pivoted daily data from the database, but they’re in this post.

Starting with pivoted data we want to look for dates from November through March with more than a tenth of an inch of precipitation, snowfall less than two tenths of an inch and a daily high temperature above 20°F. Then we group by the winter year and month, and aggregate the rain events into a single event. These occurrences are rare enough that this aggregation shoudln’t combine events from different parts of the month.

Here’s the R code:

winter_rain <-
   fai_pivot %>%
      mutate(winter_year=year(dte - days(92)),
               wdoy=yday(dte + days(61)),
               month=month(dte),
               SNOW=ifelse(is.na(SNOW), 0, SNOW),
               TMAX=TMAX*9/5+32,
               TAVG=TAVG*9/5+32,
               TMIN=TMIN*9/5+32,
               PRCP=PRCP/25.4,
               SNOW=SNOW/25.4) %>%
      filter(station_name == 'FAIRBANKS INTL AP',
               winter_year < 2014,
               month %in% c(11, 12, 1, 2, 3),
               TMAX > 20,
               PRCP > 0.1,
               SNOW < 0.2) %>%
      group_by(winter_year, month) %>%
      summarize(date=min(dte), tmax=mean(TMAX),
                prcp=sum(PRCP), days=n()) %>%
      ungroup() %>%
      mutate(month=month(date)) %>%
      select(date, month, tmax, prcp, days) %>%
      arrange(date)

And the results:

List of winter rain events, Fairbanks Airport
Date Month Max temp (°F) Rain (inches) Days
1921-03-07 3 44.06 0.338 1
1923-02-06 2 33.98 0.252 1
1926-01-12 1 35.96 0.142 1
1928-03-02 3 39.02 0.110 1
1931-01-19 1 33.08 0.130 1
1933-11-03 11 41.00 0.110 1
1935-11-02 11 38.30 0.752 3
1936-11-24 11 37.04 0.441 1
1937-01-10 1 32.96 1.362 3
1948-11-10 11 48.02 0.181 1
1963-01-19 1 35.06 0.441 1
1965-03-29 3 35.96 0.118 1
1979-11-11 11 35.96 0.201 1
2003-02-08 2 34.97 0.291 2
2003-11-02 11 34.97 0.268 2
2010-11-22 11 34.34 0.949 3

This year’s event doesn’t compare to 2010 when almost and inch of rain fell over the course of three days in November, but it does look like it comes at an unusual part of the year.

Here’s the counts and frequency of winter rainfall events by month:

by_month <-
   winter_rain %>%
      group_by(month) %>%
      summarize(n=n()) %>%
      mutate(freq=n/sum(n)*100)
Winter rain events by month
Month n Freq
1 4 25.00
2 2 12.50
3 3 18.75
11 7 43.75

There haven’t been any rain events in December, which is a little surprising, but next to that, February rains are the least common.

I looked at this two years ago (Winter freezing rain) using slightly different criteria. At the bottom of that post I looked at the frequency of rain events over time and concluded that they seem to come in cycles, but that the three events in this decade was a bad sign. Now we can add another rain event to the total for the 2010s.

tags: rain  R  weather  winter  dplyr  climate 
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