The green, green grass of October is marking the development of a Brave New Season for the residents of Alaska’s urban core.
In a land that usually transitions rapidly from summer to winter – or from the no-snow season to the snow-season as Alaska sourdoughs come to think of it – there is this year the oddity of an actual fall.
Instead of the frozen ground of a normal October, there are the blooming flowers of a warming northland.
Anchorage’s Angie Pobieglo on Wednesday posted online photos of her blooming Dahlia’s and added in a message that “I’ve got roses and begonias still blooming too and my sunflowers and gladiolus just bloomed yesterday.”
Rural residents of the 49th state have long joked about the largest city as Los Anchorage, because of its distinctly urban nature and abundance of residents unprepared to venture into the wild.
But now the city appears to be moving in a truly California direction climate wise, or at least a Seattle one.
September ended more than 8 degrees warmer than normal and much, much drier, according to the National Weather Service, and the trend has now continued more than halfway through October.
Anchorage on Tuesday set a new record for the latest date without frost at the NWS headquarters near Ted Stevens International Airport, and with every day now comes a “new, new record,” as NWS weatherman David Snider termed it.
“There is green grass throughout my yard,” longtime Alaskan Doug O’Harra observed today. He’d already mowed the lawn once in October, a rarity in and of itself, and was thinking about how maybe he should mow it again.
“It’s unfrickin’ believable,” he said. “In my experience, everything should be rock-solid frozen by now.”
The data only backs up O’Harra’s memory. The NWS’s, long-term, historic average low for Anchorage normally hits freezing on Oct. 10 and then just keeps going down. By this date, the daily low is supposed to be down to 29 degrees – three-degrees below freezing – and falling.
The thermometer Wednesday bottomed out at 48 degrees, about the same overnight low as Seattle. The day’s high temperature of 56 degrees was a record. The normal high is 40, a staggering 16 degrees colder.
At noon today, the temperature was 49 degrees and forecast to go to 54.
And Anchorage wasn’t the only city in the state basking in a global-warming glow. Three-hundred-fifty miles to the north on the Arctic side of the Alaska Range in the usually frozen-by-now heart of the state, Fairbanks – the second largest city – had yet to see snow.
The lack of a white ground covering was the talk of the town.
“Since the previous record for the latest trace of snow in Fairbanks was Oct. 11, 1920, our lack of snowfall this year breaks a 98-year-old record,” the story said.
The NWS was promising snow by tonite or Friday in Fairbanks, but it was likely to be mixed with rain given temperatures forecast to hit highs in the 40s. The mid-October norm for the Central Alaska city is highs near freezing and lows in the teens.
A normal, average daily temperature for Fairbanks on Wednesday would have been 24 degrees. It was instead 38, which was not just 14 degrees above the daily average; it was 7 degrees above the average daily high for the date.
Many are relishing the change. Some like O’Harra have mixed feelings.
“If it’s not going to snow, I at least want it to freeze so I can go skating or fat biking,” he said.
Alaskans who love the outdoors often, oddly enough, relish winter when travel in the road-short north – be that travel by snowmachine, dog sled, skis or fat bike – is a whole lot easier than in the summer when swamps and lakes, and marshes and rivers, throw barriers in front of the adventurous.
The winter travel situation is not looking so good for those people at the moment.
The climate weather outlook from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) out today said an El Nino appears to be brewing in the southern Pacific Ocean which is likely to spin more warm weather north to Alaska.
The prediction for December through February put the odds at better than 60 percent that most of Alaska will be warmer than usual. And the monthly outlook for Gulf of Alaska gave odds of greater than 50 percent for warm weather in the days ahead.
November is expected to continue dryer than normal, according to NOAA, but a wetter trend is predicted for December through February. O’Harra is hoping for snow.
Some El Nino winters have brought a lot of the white stuff. Often in the Anchorage area, all it takes is a drop in temperature of but a couple degrees to turn the precipitation white.
“I’m looking at the glass half full,” O’Harra said as he contemplated whether he should fire up the lawn mower hopefully for one last time, “(but) we’re in uncharted territory.”