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MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — This year’s winter in northern Japan was a milestone, but not for snowfall.

The flake tally for the year, barring any late spring snowstorms, was 73.7 inches — only the fifth lowest since 1948 and three inches more than the 2003-04 winter.

But unlike in winters past, the snow didn’t stick due to record-breaking temperatures — part of a warming trend seen throughout the country.

Regional average temperatures in western and eastern Japan were the highest since the 1946-47 winter, when the historical record began, according to a Japan Meteorological Agency news release. At 63 observatories, such as Akita, Sendai, Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka, Takamatsu and Fukuoka, new high mean temperatures were set. In Tokyo, the average temperature was about 48 degrees from December through February, according to JMA.

It wasn’t much cooler up north, where January — typically Misawa’s coldest month — saw an average of 39 degrees, and overall, the average maximum temperature for the winter was about 5 degrees above normal, according to David Driskell, a civilian forecaster with 35th Operations Support Squadron weather flight at Misawa. Last year, he said, the temperature dipped to a bone-chilling low of 9 degrees, while this year, the lowest recorded temperature was 20 degrees.

The Japan Meteorological Agency attributes the warmth to less frequent cold surges associated with winter monsoon.

Driskell said to blame El Nino — a major warming of Pacific equatorial waters that occurs every three to seven years.

“It just forced a lot of storms to stay north of us,” he said. “We just didn’t get the cold temperatures we normally do.”

But it appears El Nino is over. On its Web site, the Japan Meteorological Agency says Pacific Ocean temperature readings indicate El Nino dissipated in February.

“That could contribute to the fact we had a somewhat normal March, precipitation-wise,” Driskell said, including about 12 inches of snow at the outset of the base Operational Readiness Inspection on March 12.

Tokyo saw its first snow of the year March 16 — a record that broke the previous latest snowfall of Feb. 10, set in 1960, according to a JMA official.

Snow is still clinging to slopes in the mountain ranges near Misawa.

“The snow in the mountains (this year) was normal, beautiful, good snow,” said Ron Stark, an avid snow-shoer and Outdoor Recreation program coordinator. “I’m happy I didn’t have to use a snow blower all winter.”

Stars and Stripes reporter Hana Kusumoto contributed to this story.

Getting the weather

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — Local weather data at Misawa comes courtesy of the Japan Air Self-Defense Force weather station at Misawa, according to David Driskell, a civilian forecaster with the 35th Operations Support Squadron weather flight.

Outside the JASDF weather building is a small, roped-off area used to collect and measure snowfall.

A snowboard — smaller than a 4x4 — is placed on the grass. After snow stops falling, the depth is measured and the snowboard is scraped clean, Driskell said.

JASDF forecasters, from an observation weather tower, also take hourly observations, 24 hours a day, measuring all weather facets, including temperature, cloud cover, visibility, wind and dew point.

“They log it (on to a computer) and it goes out all over the world,” Driskell said.

— Jennifer H. Svan

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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