Residents of Alaska’s largest city were pondering the idea of global cooling on Wednesday with the National Weather Service warning temperatures in Anchorage could drop into the 30s overnight.
While the Interior of the state has been basking in sunshine and warmth – it was 90 degrees in Fairbanks late last week – the coastal regions where most Alaskans live have seemed soggy and chill for most of May and early June.
What a change a year makes. One year ago, the state recorded its second warmest May on record with a statewide temperature a whopping 6 degrees above normal at 44 degrees, as pointed out in the National Climate Report.
This year, Alaska barely got the briefest of mentions there with the observation that “May was slightly wetter than normal with near-normal temperatures.” The northern part of the state was a little warmer, the southern part of it a little cooler, and together they about averaged out.
Anchorage in May was actually a tenth of a degree above normal, but it seemed many degrees below. Blame 2015 and 2016 for altering perceptions, said the Weather Service’s David Snider.
“People have short-term memories,” he messaged. And they are prone to abandon the established normal and accept a new normal rather quickly. The new normal set in 2015-16 was warm and sunny, sometimes even hot.
Glorious global warming
A year ago, the 49th state was a poster child for climate change.
“Destruction of Alaska continues under record heat,” the Seattle PI reported on June 16, 2016.
“In a state that insulates the floors of buildings to avoid thawing out the permafrost beneath them, this (warming) is really bad news,” wrote reporter Jake Ellison. “Basically, Alaska as we all know it is turning into marshland and the consequences are likely to be troubling for us all.”
(Hint to Seattle reporters: A fair bit of Alaska is made up of bedrock or heavily compacted glacial till. Neither turn to marsh no matter how hot it gets.)
Whatever the spin on the national news – “Baked Alaska: Heat records shattered across the state,” CNN reported on July 14, 2016 – most Alaskans weren’t complaining. And with the hot water “Blob” seemingly anchored in the Gulf of Alaska, the warmth enjoyed a long run.
This is the end….
When it finally ended, the Alaska Dispatch News decided Alaskans actually needed to be consoled.
“Don’t let the recent snowy weather fool you,” the state’s largest newspaper headlined on December 30, “Alaska is having a really warm year.”
“It might feel cold and look snowy in Southcentral Alaska,” the story below began, “but the big picture statewide shows a different story this year.”
By then, though, the story was already changing. An unprecedented, 20-month-long run of monthly temperatures above normal ended at the start of December, and the old normal for Alaska came back.
Since then, Anchorage has pretty much the oscillated around the expected norms. December ended 3 degrees below normal, January 3.5 degrees below, February 1.5 below, March 7.4 below, April 3.6 above, May 0.1 above, and June so is far tracking a little above.
The start of the summer of 2017 in the state’s urban core might seem chillier and wetter than normal, but it’s just about perfectly normal.
The perception, not the reality, is what is different.
“The last few summers have been warm and dry,” Snider messaged. People adjusted. Those summers became their reference point.
Judged against that bar, the current summer does seem wet and chilly, and it is compared to 2015 and 2016. But those were not normal years.