Two years after Alaska’s warmest year on record, weather conditions have returned to something closer to normal in the far north.
The National Weather Service was issuing frost warnings for the Fairbanks area Monday night. The Eureka Lodge on the Glenn Highway in the Talkeetna Mountains was reporting 6- to 7-inches of new snow that same day.
To the north on the Denali Highway, it was snowing at the McClaren River on Sunday night, though the temperature remained just above freezing. A seasonal road, the highway itself was late in opening this year.
The reason? Too much snow to be moved in May.
Cue the late country singer Johnny Horton: “When it’s springtime in Alaska it’s forty below….”
Alaska has been warming for six decades, but the degrees of change to date remains small compared to the extremes of year-to-year climate variation. And the cold temperatures now being witnessed are within the normal extremes of variation.
It’s something to be expected even in a warmer Alaska.
“If a linear trend is taken through mean annual temperatures, the average change over the last six decades is around 3.0° Fahrenheit,” according to the Alaska Climate Center. Warming has been greater along the Arctic coast, but even there the 6.3 degree jump since 1949 easily hides within normal fluctuations.
A little less than six and a half degrees is nothing in a state where the high and low on an average day varies about twice as much. Still, here in the fabled “Seward’s Icebox,” Alaskans can’t help noticing when the weather turns unusually friendly on the warm side.
And Alaskans got treated to a couple very nice summers in 2015 and 2016 that left some thinking global warning had arrived in force.
A paper published by the American Meteorological Society in January poured cold water on that idea. It concluded 2015 and 2016 were anomalies, although they are expected to return again as the climate continues to warm.
“A strong El Niño with a positive Pacific Decadal Oscillation (warm) phase, together with preconditioning of the waters during 2014/15 and the anomalous atmospheric circulation of early 2016, made for a ‘perfect storm’ of marine heating around Alaska,” wrote John Walsh and a gang of more than a dozen colleagues.
The mainland enjoyed the fallout.
That is history now. May 2016 averaged 52 degrees – more than 4 degrees above normal – and the temperature twice hit 72. The warmest day this May peaked at 64 and the average was near normal at 48.4.
June is generally tracking May with little hope at the moment of a 78 degree day as on June 16, 2016. The national Climate Prediction Center is, in fact, predicting below normal temperatures for most of the state through most of the rest of the month.
That’s in line with the last few days to the north of Alaska’s largest city, although the Ntional Weather Service is predicting the temperature in Anchorage could go as high as 75 on Thursday before falling back into the mid-60s or colder.
The warmest day so far was 64 degrees. June 1, 2016 topped that at 66, and from June 7, 2016 on through the end of the month there were only three days with a high temperature below 64.
Oh, the good old days.
For better or for worse, Walsh and teams of scientists do predict they will be back:
“…2016 will become common in the coming decades,” the scientists wrote. “Given the many impacts of the 2016 anomaly, the future climate projected here will result in a profound shift for people, systems, and species when such warm ocean temperatures become common and not extreme in the Gulf of Alaska and Bering regions.”
Until then, though, the Alaska of the old days will reign, meaning snow is possible in any month especially at elevation. And the Climate Prediction Center’s forecast map through June 29 has a big, cold circle of blue centered over the state.
Dig out the fleece.