SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

Statistically Speaking
By Dave Kiffer


December 15, 2006

Ketchikan, Alaska - I love statistics.

When I was a little kid, I memorized reams and reams and reams of sports "stats".

jpg Dave Kiffer

And even though I sometimes have trouble remembering my current telephone number (225- uhh, 08, uhh 70) and my various passwords and pin numbers, I can still spout Ty Cobb's lifetime batting average (.367), Wilt Chamberlain's 1961-62 scoring average (50.4) and the fact that Sandy Koufax struck out 382 batters in 1965.

Now that I am older, natch, I have reached the point where weather stats are of great interest.

No, I do not watch the Weather Channel 24-7 (although "Storm of the Century" is very compelling TV!). But I do like to keep track of our local weather info (Highest ever Ketchikan temp: 96 degrees in 1913; lowest ever temp: minus 8 in 1916!).

That's how I know from whence I speak when I say Ketchikan will probably not have a White Christmas.

I made that statement in a recent column and a reader emailed to say - though with much more colorful verb and adjective usage - how the heck do I know?

Well, I don't. Nobody - not even the National Weather Service - really knows. Every year Ketchikan has a 50-50 chance of having a white Christmas. Either it does or it doesn't.

But if you look at the NWS stats over the past couple of decades, you see that "odds" are, Ketchikan will have a "non" White Christmas. But it will probably have a "wet" one. And it will probably be a warmer day than you would expect.

The last time Ketchikan had snow on Christmas - according to the NWS - was December 1988. In fact, the NWS has recorded a white Christmas in Ketchikan exactly twice since 1980.

If you go back into the 1960s and 1970s, you see that - according to the stats, - Ketchikan did have a few more white Christmases but even then it was non white more often that not.

The good thing about the 1960s and 70s stats is that I can say - with statistical backup - that it really was SNOWIER in Ketchikan when I was a kid. Okay, maybe it wasn't actually "10 miles to school, uphill, each way," but you get my (snow) drift..

Perhaps, the greatest thing about statistics is that I can look back on a big meteorological moment of my youth, a "blizzard" that I remember taking place after Christmas of Kindergarten year and see that - according to the NWS - it really did happen.

Between December 25, 1964 and Jan. 10, 1965, Ketchikan got nearly four feet of snow. I "remember" building (actually, I think my Dad actually built it) an "igloo" in our back yard that was big enough to fit me and two friends.

I also remember at least three different cars sliding down Jefferson Street and crashing into our back yard. Unfortunately the NWS does not keep those types of stats, although perhaps fender benders (or fence benders as the case may be) might be a more accurate determinant of severe weather than simple precipitation pileup.

As usual, I digress. But if Ketchikan does not get the Bing Crosby vision of the quintessential American holiday, what does it get?

Let's go to the stats, shall we?

More often than not it has rained on Christmas Day in Ketchikan.

That's no surprise, you say. We live in Ketchikan, you say. More often than not it rains on every day of calendar, you say.

Well, sure. I can shoot fish in that barrel!!!

But if you ask most Ketchikan residents they will claim that Christmas Day usually seems to dawn cold and clear. More often that not. At least that's what we remember.

I thought so too, because I remember getting up most Christmas Days, looking outside and thinking "geeze, it's cold enough, why isn't it snowing?"

According to the NWS, it has rained on 19 Christmases since 1980. That only leaves seven sunny ones. Go figure.

Perhaps the most surprising NWS stat is that its not even that cold on most Christmas Days in Ketchikan. The average December temperature over the past 25 years has been right around 38 degrees (hence well above freezing and hence the limited amount of snow).

But the average December 25th temperature has been 42 degrees in that same time frame. And frequently it has been in the upper 40s. At least nine times in the last 25 years, there have been 50 degree temperatures either on Christmas or within a day or two of it. That's really weird.

I understand that December isn't the coldest month (that would usually be January- normal mean temp of 33.5 degrees) in these here parts. But 50 degree Christmases seem a little beyond the pale. Heck, we don't get that many 50 degree days in the Spring and Fall. Why would we get 50 degree days in late December? Are the weather gods really that ironic?

But there is it is in official NWS black and white.

So, it is pretty clear that Ketchikan's Christmas 2006 will not be a white one. It will dawn wet and warm enough to wear your brand new Gore-Tex red and green Christmas boxer shorts to the family holiday gathering.

Or not.

Dave Kiffer is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.
Contact Dave at

Dave Kiffer ©2006

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