Icy hot 2016



Residents of Alaska’s largest city shivered their way to the end of the warmest year on record to put the perfect underline beneath the vagaries of weather in the Far North.

As the mainstream media highlighted how “2016 shatters record for Alaska’s warmest year,” the National Weather Service in Anchorage was reassuring those who thought December a wee bit chilly that they weren’t imagining things.

With an average temperature of 16 degrees, the agency reported, December 2016 came in “3.0 degrees below the normal of 19.0 degrees.”

It was, however, far from the coldest December on record. At 29th coldest, it ranked near the middle of the 63 years on record. But it probably seemed worse coming after a run of 14 months above the norm and a December 2015 when the average was 21.5 degrees, more than five degrees warmer than this December.

The average temperature for December 2015 came in only half a degree short of the average high for December 2016, which saw 19 days in the month dip below the average low.


Snowier, too. Really?

And though Anchorage might have lacked that perfect White Christmas everyone imagines in memory, the snowfall was a couple of flakes above the norm at 16.9 inches for the month. The norm is 16.7.

That said, the snow drought leading into December did contribute to a not-so-snowy looking Anchorage for the holiday season.

“The seasonal snowfall to date is 20.8 inches,” the Weather Service said. “The normal seasonal snowfall to date is 38.1 inches. This is the 14th least snowiest snow season to date through the end of December.”

The snowpack wasn’t helped by the rain that came near mid month when the temperature climbed to a December high of 37 degrees. Sans that midmonth thaw when a warm-mass of Gulf of Alaska air forced itself ashore, December 2016 would have gone down in history as a truly chillacious start to another winter.

The weather is forecast to stay chilly well into the New Year, too. But that’s not the hot topic.

Global warming

The hot topic is heat.

Buoyed by record spring and summer temperatures, cities all across the state closed out 2016 with record high temperature averages for the year. Barrow, the nation’s farthest north city, was a whopping 7.1 degrees above normal for the year. Just to the south, Kotzebue was 6.8 degrees above.

The heat wave gradually fell going south and east, but even the capital city of Juneau in Southeast Alaska’s temperate rain forest – which generally keeps summer temperatures down and winter temperatures up – reported in at 2.7 degrees warmer than normal.

Alaskans will likely look back fondly on the summer of 2016 when USA Today headlined “Baked Alaska: Heat records shattered across the state.” That was on July 14 when the temperature in Deadhorse on the North Slope hit an unheard of 85 degrees.

It was 88 degrees in Fairbanks, which the national newspaper thought a noteworthy “hotter than New York City’s 85 degrees.”

By then, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration was reporting the Alaska average for the year running 9 degrees above normal. The official NOAA statement on how far above the norm Alaska was for all of 2016 isn’t available yet, but judging from the record highs reported for cities across the state, the number is likely to come in somewhere in the range of 3 to 6 degrees.

There’s no arguing that “Seward’s Ice Box” is warming up as Alaska and the Arctic lead the way on global warming. And despite some recent cooling, the trend would appear to be moving in the direction of Alaska rollercoastering its way to a steadily warmer climate.

Maybe not as warm as when dinosaurs roamed the North Slope, but warmer.




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