Globe cool, AK warm


2016 – The summer of the hot dog/Craig Medred phoo

Once again, Alaska is bucking the trend or leading the way. You decide.

The globe might have ended its run of record high temperatures in September, but the 49th state didn’t. While the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that the month of September brought to a close a 16-month string of record global warmth, Alaska was one of the odd spots out.

The Alaska Climate Research Center said the 49th state remained well above the historic norm in September, and thus ran its string of record warm months to 12 and counting still.

The state’s monthly mean temperature was 47.8 degrees Fahernheit, 2.2 degrees above the long-term norm of 45.6, the Fairbanks-based center reported, adding that “this is 3.5°F above the September 2015 mean of  44.3.”

And today the U.S. Climate Prediction Center’s new three-month climate assessment predicted the warmth will continue. It suggests coastal Alaska will stay significantly warmer than normal in November, December and January.

In its latest “long lead” report, the agency adds that the “2016-2017 temperature outlook indicates increased probabilities of above-normal temperatures for most of the contiguous U.S. and Alaska with the exceptions being areas of East-Central Alaska and a region along the northern tier of the U.S. that stretches from the Pacific Northwest eastward through the Great Lakes.”

La Nina slow to arrive

A La Nina watch remains in place, but the report concludes that in the near term a big pool of warm water in the Gulf of Alaska will trump the usual cooling brought by the northward flow of chilly La Nina waters.

“Sea surface temperatures in the North Pacific and along the coast of Alaska remain above average although these departures from normal in areas of the North Pacific have decreased some over the past month,” the climate prediction says.

“For Alaska, above normal temperatures are favored for coastal areas and is (sic) supported by above-average, near-coastal surface sea temperatures, trends in sea ice coverage, and dynamical model guidance.”

Coastal Alaskans can’t have forgotten what the influence of the warm water offshore meant last winter: Goodbye “Seward’s Icebox,” hello Seattle soggy.

The weather in the style of the Pacific Northwest continued through the summer much as if the climate of the coastal rain forest had crept just a little farther north, albeit with a bigger dose of summer sunshine than one might normally expect. Kayakers in Prince William Sound this tourist season were often as much in need of sunscreen as rain gear.

And the warm weather ran right through September. On a daily basis, only two days in all of that month – Sept. 25th and 26th – dipped below the daily mean.

Anchorage, the state’s largest city, was one of the leading hot spots. With a monthly temperature 3.1 degrees above the norm, it tied Homer for third in the competition to become the Alaska’s new Banana belt.

Warm spots moves north

Monthly mean temperatures for Anchorage and Homer were actually above those for the state’s rainy capital of Juneau in Southeast Alaska. Juneau normally runs one and a half to two degrees warmer than Anchorage and Homer in September.

But this year, despite a monthly temp 1.2 degrees above normal in the Capital City, it only matched Homer with a mean of 51.2 and trailed Anchorage by half a degree. And the warming in Anchorage and Homer was tame compared to what was happening to the west on the edge of the Bering Sea.

The Bristol Bay community of King Salmon had a monthly mean 3.7 degrees above the  norm, and Saint Paul Island climbed a whopping 4.6 degrees above the norm.

Part of this was due to the fact that September came in like August across much of the state. Coming of a generally warm and sunny summer, Alaskans – living in a land where paybacks for good weather usually turn into a bitch months later – had no right to expect such a beautiful fall, but they got it.

The month started with high temperature records toppling all over the state. Kodiak, Bethel and King Salmon set or passed 70 degrees on Sept. 1 to set daily records for that date. Anchorage hit 71 the next day to join the record setters. St. Paul, Yakutat and Cold Bay all tied past records.

Barrow, the nation’s northern most city, hit 48 on Sept. 30. That was seven degrees above the previous Sept. 30 high for the community of 4,400 on the edge of the Arctic Ocean.

Everything ends someday

The question now is will the streak continue, or will Alaska do what it usually does and simply arrive late on the national trend. A couple weeks ago, it was looking like the latter was sure to be the case soon. Even though Anchorage was still trending above normal, the National Weather Service was saying La Nina conditions brewing to the south might soon be felt.

La Nina sweeps cold waters along the coast of North America, and the result is usually cold in Alaska. In September, the three-month outlook was really hedging its bets, calling for warmer than normal conditions in Arctic Alaska, but putting most of the state in the “EC” category – “equal conditions” for temps above, below or at normal.

That changed today. Now, coastal Alaska stays warm through December and the “EC” doesn’t start to kick in until the January- February-March period when a predicted pocket of cold air in Eastern Alaska grows around Glennallen and Copper Center and pushes west toward Palmer.

If, of course, La Nina brews as expected.

“Although the current oceanic and atmospheric state reflect ENSO-neutral conditions, observations in both the atmosphere and ocean that trended toward those consistent with La Nina in recent weeks,” the long term report says. “A La Nina watch has been reissued…. probabilities for La Nina near 70 percent during Autumn 2016, continuing into the winter of 2016-2017 albeit at a lower probability at the current time. La Nina remains a consideration in the outlooks through the winter.”

The good news-bad news in that La Nina prediction is that the climate center is calling for a drier Alaska coast in the near term months of November, December and January – not good for skiers, but better clear skis than rain for most Anchorage residents in winter – and a drier Alaska coast in the longer term, too.

Again, not so good for skiers.

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