The new normal?


A city park about 1,000 feet above Anchorage on the day before Thanksgiving/Craig Medred photo

The hillsides climbing into the Chugach Mountains above Alaska’s largest city were bare and brown with lingering patches of green grass as Thanksgiving approached, and the only hint of the season was the sun low in the southern sky as it closed in on the winter equinox with its fewer than five and half hours of daylight.


Forty miles to the east, the slopes of the Alyeska Ski Resort were empty. For decades, the by-far-biggest ski area in the 49th state scheduled its opening for Thanksgiving Day. It announced last year that it was ending that tradition because of years of erratic snows. 

On Wednesday, that decision looked prescient. Anchorage was cooling off after another week of almost unbelievably warm weather, but the temperature still hit 31 degrees – five degrees above the normal high for the day, according to the National Weather Service (NWS).

State parks director Ethan Tyler, a resident of the ski town of Girdwood at the base of Mount Alyeska, was thinking about digging out his surf board to ride a Thanksgiving Day bore tide expected late in the afternoon. His decision was hinging on air temperature.

Tyler had a cut-off of 35 degrees. The most optimistic forecasts called for temperatures in the mid-30s, but the NWS was predicting it would peak at 31 degrees – near normal for Girdwood this time of year.

That was a change.

Most everything else related to the weather has been abnormal in recent weeks. What little snow there was earlier in the month has melted or been washed away by rain.

About the only white to be seen in the Anchorage area these days is the white of the snowshoe hares flashing across the brown terrain as they run for their lives – their winter fur evolved over eons to blend with the snow now a major liability.


An Anchorage snowshoe hare/Craig Medred photo

The weather has sparked a lot of discussion of global warming and climate change, but the climate in the north has always been hugely variable. Part of what is going on is likely due to a slowly and steadily warming planet, but double-digits temperature shifts –  the temperature on Monday in Anchorage was 15 degrees above normal – are far above the predictions of climate models.

As the Fairbanks-based Alaska Climate Research Center in notes, the long-term trend for the state rollercoasters upward from 1949 to where we are today and is not “a linear trend (that) might have been expected from the fairly steady observed increase of CO2 (carbon dioxide in the atmosphere) during this time period.

“It can be seen that there are large variations from year to year and the five-year moving average demonstrates large increase in 1976. The period 1949 to 1975 was substantially colder than the period from 1977 to 2014, however since 1977 little additional warming has occurred in Alaska with the exception of Barrow and a few other locations. The stepwise shift appearing in the temperature data in 1976 corresponds to a phase shift of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation from a negative phase to a positive phase.”

The Centers graphic about says it all. The cold Alaska climate of the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s has been replaced by the warmer Alaska climate since.

alaska temperature trends

Alaska Climate Research Center data

Alaska views on the change appear mixed. Few complain about the warmer temperatures, but many curse the lack of snow which makes the short days of late fall and early winter look even grayer and bleaker.

Many wonder how long it will last – if it lasts. History would argue for a shift back to cold, but the 2017 report from the United Nations Climate Change panel argues ever-increasing volumes of atmospheric CO2 due to human use of fossil fuels has created a new paradigm.

“An astonishing 17 of the 18 warmest years on record have occurred in the twenty-first century. The past three years were the hottest since records began,” Patricia Espinosa, the panel’s executive secretary writes in the report. 

Though a warming planet is generally viewed as a “bad thing,” temperature increases are more a mixed bag for the coldest state in the nation.

“Salmon stocks from Alaska have been highly productive since the 1976 regime change in the North Pacific, an estimate three times more productive than in the 1946-75 period,” according to the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). “The periods of increased salmon production correspond to…a warming of the surface waters in the Gulf of Alaska.”

The three largest salmon harvests in Alaska history have come in the past five years. The 2013 catch, the largest in state history, was 272 million. Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologists used to consider anything about 100 million a good year. The five-year average harvest is now more than twice that at about 205 million salmon.

Warmer weather has boosted not only fisheries but agriculture as well. Alaska barley – the great hope of the late 1970s and early ’80s that turned into the big bust of the early ’90s – is making a comeback.

Alaska’s barley growers had their most productive year in the last decade in 2017, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported in March.

Could it become even more? Possibly. The global brewing industry is being threatened by a shortage of barley, which is driving up barley prices.

“Barley crops in northern Europe have fried under the hot and dry weather, raising potential problems for brewers that need to buy malt. Yields in key producers in Scandinavia, northern Germany and the Baltic countries could be 30 to 40 percent below normal,”Bloomberg reported in August.

Alaska, which now produces great beer, might simply have been ahead of its time on barley. The growing season is tilting in the state’s favor. It now averages more than 110 days – almost four months – in the Fairbanks area of Central Alaska, according to the National Weather Service.

The season has not dropped below 100 days since 1996, something that happened regularly from 1996 back to 1930. Fairbanks in that year witnessed a 130-day growing season that would not be bettered until 1999, and since then there have five days with seasons of 128 days or more.

The 2006 to 2015, 10-year average is almost 121 days, and the last few years have been warmer than that period. Fairbanks was 3 degrees above normal in September of this year and 8.5 degrees above normal in October.

For the month, the coastal city of Anchorage – in or around which lives about half the state’s population – is running 7 degrees above normal, according to the NWS. And the federal agency is expecting that to continue.

Rain and snow are in the forecast for the weekend with temperatures expected to climb near 40. That is expected to continue into the last week of November, and the national Climate Prediction Center is expecting warmer than normal temperatures for Alaska for December, January and February.

If this isn’t the new normal, it sure looks a lot like the new normal.

But then the Vikings once thought that, too, in a place they called Greenland. Unfortunately, the warming didn’t last and the Vikings were gone, which is its own interesting story and it has changed signficantly from what was thought to be known a decade ago.







30 replies »

  1. Wow. These temperature records are astounding. In 2007 at a history conference in Kenai, I presented a speech on how global warming was changing the Eskimo diet in the north of Alaska. Comments were generally in the “too negative” range.
    I now live near St. Louis, MO. We had 70 days over 90 during the summer, making it really awful some times to walk my dog. And this winter has had plenty of 20s and 30s temperatures, with more snow than usual.
    I wish the Congress would get it!

  2. Don’t Tell Anyone, But We Just Had Two Years Of Record-Breaking Global Cooling
    Inconvenient Science: NASA data show that global temperatures dropped sharply over the past two years. Not that you’d know it, since that wasn’t deemed news. Does that make NASA a global warming denier?

    Writing in Real Clear Markets, Aaron Brown looked at the official NASA global temperature data and noticed something surprising. From February 2016 to February 2018, “global average temperatures dropped by 0.56 degrees Celsius.” That, he notes, is the biggest two-year drop in the past century.

    “The 2016-2018 Big Chill,” he writes, “was composed of two Little Chills, the biggest five month drop ever (February to June 2016) and the fourth biggest (February to June 2017). A similar event from February to June 2018 would bring global average temperatures below the 1980s average.”

  3. Wow! Just wow! So, it isn’t man made after all?
    “Scientists have proposed a new method to fight global warming: sun-dimming aerosols released into earth’s atmosphere.

    Research from scientists at Harvard and Yale universities was recently published in a journal called Environmental Research Letters which proposes using a technique called stratospheric aerosol injection to fight against climate change. The proposed technique would see scientists launching sulfate particles into the Earth’s lower stratosphere at altitudes up 12 miles high.

    Currently, the technology exists but there are no aircraft suitable to carry the particles and “developing a new, purpose-built tanker with substantial payload capabilities would neither be technologically difficult nor prohibitively expensive,” the researchers stated. The researchers have estimated that it would cost $3.5 billion to launch a system in 15 years time and would cost $2.25 billion a year to maintain over the course of those 15 years.”

  4. A trivia tidbit , the Vikings called Greenland that moniker to attract folks away from Iceland, which is indeed green and habitable. So I guess a bunch of seafaring folks went to Greenland and were disappointed not to see a plethora of Prius vehicles and a swath of solar panels. Instead they met a bunch of ice and rocks , the start of a miserable life based on pre Zillow real estate hype.

    Iceland is more temperate, green and has the worlds most undiluted Viking genepool. Although Greenland is losing ice, bolstering your abnormal normal theory, Iceland is where the hot chicks are.

    • Greenland appears to be returning to what it was when the Vikings thrived there for centuries. if you haven’t read the linked Smithsonian magazine story at the bottom, you should. it’s pretty interesting.

      the theory now is that Vikings of Greenland were ivory hunters/traders. and that their disappearance from Greenland was likely climate related, but not in the way we’ve come to think of them as victims of Greenland getting too cold for them to survive.

      there was another element to the climate that messed up their economy.

  5. That link on the last paragraph is an interesting one, among many important takeaways the most important should be that “scientific consensus” can easily be upended when actual science is employed instead of group think. Science is a strict discipline of repeatedly provable conclusions not something that requires your friends, peers, or coworkers to agree with preformed hypotheses.

    • 404 months in a row with above normal temps (on the globe)….
      Hawaii “looses” an Island to rises in Ocean water levels..
      Over 1,000 people missing (many burned alive) in ONE “wildfire” in Cali and you still think you are immune to the “Changing Planet”?
      Luckily you do not depend on frozen rivers for winter travel like many Alaskans do.
      Native communities in Alaska will face many challenges in the years to come and do not think our government will acknowledge the pending diasters on the horizon.

      • Steve,

        I’m not sure where you get your 404 months in a row number, but if we were going on 34 straight years of above “normal”, then maybe whatever “normal” was isn’t anymore. I would go so far as to say that after 34 years IF we’ve had 404 months in a row of above “normal” temperatures then the old normal wasn’t normal. Or we could look to the historical record, beyond the last couple decades, where to be abnormal is normal.

      • Steve O,
        The last month with “average” temperatures below normal was Dec 1984….
        Right about the time our country was concerned with limiting CFC’s and those darn holes in the “Ozone Layer” that were detected over the “poles”.
        I guess most corporate media outlets lost interest in the Ozone layer depletion?
        Last time our atmosphere saw CO2 levels this high, humans did not inhabit the earth.

      • Steve,

        Do you have any non-crazy sites to back up your data, maybe a government website where at least we can pretend there is a minimal amount of impartiality? I’m not looking for chemtrail people saying crazy things, that’s only going to convince crazy chemtrail people.

      • Steve,

        Any chance we can get some kind of a metric on what your definition of a “normal” temperature is? Saying that the temperature is above “normal” for 34 years every month in and month out, but not providing any information about what “normal” is and/or where that information came from seems like maybe you are saying things you can’t backup with actual data.

      • Steve O…
        Your most funny reply to date…
        “You want a non crazy site…like maybe a government site?”
        Ha Ha….
        Well, Dane who is in charge of the “geo engineering” website was a government contract engineer with Bechtel for nearly 20 years….
        Here is an interview he did with an Airforce General…
        Is that Gov enough for you or do you only listen to Trump?

      • Steve O….
        Lastly here is Rex Tillerson speaking as “government” offical…Secretary of State…
        He said:
        “climate change: It’s just an ‘engineering problem’….
        And maybe we’ll have no other choice but to blast the skies full of aerosol particles using fighter jets or cannons, and mimic a volcano’s effects of reflecting away the sun’s radiation, cooling the planet. (Of course, there would be other, er, consequences if we did that.)”

      • So Steve, are you in the chemtrail camp that thinks the government is causing global warming or the camp that the government is causing global cooling? Do you think the other chemtrail camp is crazy? I know a guy from the government is using chemtrails to try to warm the earth because we are going into an ice age and he thinks the other side is crazy.

      • You need to work on how you quote people, you quoted me as saying something I did not say.

      • Steve O,
        I am in “da camp” of you must be an Idiot to not see what is happening outside.
        You can also call it the “one real truth” camp.
        GOP prols like you and Bryan only attact the messenger and ignore the evidence like countless videos from all over the globe.
        Just like Odysseus: “taking a large block of beeswax breaks it into small pieces and gives one to each of his men. He tells them to soften it and put it into their ears. In this way, they will not hear the Sirens.”

  6. Oh boy, here we go….save us alk, we are alk going to die from “Global Warming”….. Please read on… WE ARE ACTUALLY ENTERING A MINI ICE AGE.
    ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) – The Climate Prediction Center has put out its fall forecast and Alaska is expected to tilt toward warmer than normal.

    North and northwest areas of the state have a 65 to 75 percent chance of having above average temperatures. A strip from northeast Alaska through the Interior and down to Southwest/Aleutians has a 55 percent chance of warmer than normal temperatures. Southcentral and Southeast are still expected to see above average temperatures but it’s only a 45 percent chance.

    According to Rick Thoman, Climate Science and Services Manager for the National Weather Service, Alaska Region, there are a number of factors influencing the forecast, including warmer than normal sea surface temperatures in the Bering and Chukchi Seas as well as a developing El Nino.

    El Nino is created when there are warmer than normal sea surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific. For it to be considered an El Nino, the sea surface temperatures have to rise more .5 degrees Celsius or about .9 degrees Fahrenheit above the normal temperature. Though it occurs in the tropics, it impacts weather across the Pacific Ocean and United States, including Alaska.

    When an El Nino pattern occurs, winters in Alaska, particularly southern Alaska, tend to be warmer than normal. The question for many winter outdoor enthusiasts is: What about the snow?

    “El Nino winters do favor significantly warmer than normal temperatures,” says Thoman. “But because snow is so episodic, there’s a less strong connection. We certainly can have big snow storms, but if it’s persistently warm, at least in low elevation Anchorage, there’s always the risk of melting off much of that snowpack.”

    The last occurrence of a strong El Nino happened during the winter of 2015-2016. From September through March, Anchorage received 38.3 inches of snow at the National Weather Service Forecast Office. Glen Alps saw 107.0 inches of snow and Valdez received 119.7 inches.

    • I really don’t know what to say. I put scientific FACT in front of you and you still cling to that raw meat “we are all going to die from Global Warming”. What did you guys believe in before that money generating scheme came along?

      • Bryan,
        Stick to the message and not the messenger…
        My link is how Trump plans to “up” the geoengineering which I already believe is going on…
        His guy in EPA calls for:
        “…a multi-phase plan to fund research and conduct real-world testing within 18 months, deploy massive stratospheric spraying three years after, and continue spraying for a century, a duration geoengineers believe would be necessary to dial back the planet’s temperature.”
        What are the harmful side effects to spraying nano particles in our atmosphere?
        This is mad science and needs full public disclosure….
        Why is congress silent on this subject?

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