Funter Bay History: Weather

Many people from outside Alaska inquire about the cold and snow, which usually leads into a discussion of Southeast Alaska’s climate (the rainy season, and the lots-of-rain season). The temperature rarely falls below 0°F in the winter, due to warm ocean currents which reach Southeast Alaska from the Pacific Ocean. In general the climate is similar to Seattle (although wetter and about 10° cooler on average). Between 1980 and 1996 there were on average 214 days a year with precipitation. Rainfall averages about 60″ per year (compared to 37″ for Seattle and 45″ for Vancouver BC). However, it’s not as wet as other parts of Alaska like Whittier (156″), Yakutat (155″) or Ketchikan (141″).

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N002Graphic from http://pubs.usgs.gov/ha/ha730/ch_n/N-AKtext1.html

Average air temperatures are in the 60s in summer and 30s in the winter, with extreme highs in the 80s and extreme lows in the negative single digits.

The water temperature at Funter varies between about 37°F in the winter and 50°F in the summer. Warm enough for summer swimming, especially near the shore. Dark rocks and gravel warm up in the sun at low tide, then help to warm the shallows as the tide comes in.

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When it does snow, the accumulation can initially be deep (15″ in a 24hr period and 34″ total depth are some of the records). The snow does not tend to last long, instead melting into slush or getting rained on, so total buildup does not get as impressive as other parts of Alaska such as Prince William Sound and Southcentral Alaska.

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Wind is the major hazard of winter weather. While many sites on the shore are protected from the worst wind by their location and nearby trees, the center of the bay can experience powerful gusts coming in from Lynn Canal and Icy Strait, as well as North wind out of the pass behind the bay. Weather Data from Point Retreat lighthouse shows several storms with 50-60mph winds in Lynn Canal in recent years.

Winds coming in from the channel can sometimes whip up large williwaws or small waterspouts in the bay:
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Unsuspecting boats have been driven ashore on occasion after anchoring in the middle of the bay (a location shown as a good anchorage on some charts). The public docks are usually better options for secure moorage if a storm is forecast.

Weather data from 1961-1996 for Funter Bay, with various summary tables and calculations, can be found here.

Another collection of weather data for Funter Bay (from 1980 to 1996) is available here.

Weather reporting from Funter Bay was part of the National Weather Service’s Cooperative Observers program. This provided vital information for pilots, fishermen, and other travelers, as well as supporting weather forecasting on a wider regional scale. Funter residents Jim and Blanche Doyle operated the Funter station and called in regular weather observations or “obs” to the local NWS office. An index from 1980 showing some of these stations (including Funter Bay) is below:

weather 1980

In 1985 the Doyles moved across the bay, the weather station was placed on the inactive list in June, then relocated and reactivated in August (per NOAA / National Cooperative Observer Newsletter).

A newspaper column on Alaska weather noted that Funter Bay had the statewide high of 60°F on November 25, 1987 (vs 45° at Juneau and a statewide low of -39° at Umiat that same day).

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Also of importance to residents and travelers are the tides, which can change the water level 20 vertical feet in a 6-hour period. Tides are a predictable phenomenon based on the gravitation pull of the sun and moon, so tide tables are calculated and published well in advance. However, currents and geography can cause some local variations. For this reason, the government has established tide gauges at various places around Alaska in different years, including at Funter Bay. These would show the offset in minimum and maximum tidal fluctuations. Government documents refer to self-registering tide gauges installed at Funter Bay in 1894, in 1903, 1923, and 1960. NOAA’s tide data and upcoming tide tables for Funter Bay can be found here.

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