Local warming

All the pretty snow was blowing off the Front Range Chugach Mountains above Anchorage on Wednesday as the winds gusted over 80 mph, and the temperature climbed toward 40 degrees.

Welcome to Alaska’s new world of global warming, or is it climate change, or maybe just a “regime shift”?

Russian, Taiwanese and Greek scientists several years ago suggested the latter might be most in line with what is being witnessed here at latitude 61.

“It was found that the widely observed warming in the past century did not occur smoothly but sharply,” they reported in 2013.. “This fact is more pronounced at the latitude zone 30 degrees S – 60 degrees N during the years 1925/1926 and 1987/1988. We hypothesize that there were two major climate regime shifts in 1925/1926 and 1987/1988 years.”

They went on to argue that regional regime shifts are most consistent with what is being seen around the globe. These are not climate deniers making the case.

“Both natural and anthropogenic (ie. human) influences have caused the twentieth-century climate change,” observed Pavel Belolipetsky from the Russian Academy of Sciences and his colleagues.  But highly visible, regional and local manifestations of climate shifts could be more complicated than just general, planetary warming.

“We wish to make it clear that detection of a regime shift is much easier than understanding the process or processes determining it,” they added. “So we are not speculating here about physical mechanisms and reasons for shifts. There are many possible variants as climate is a complex, nonlinear, dynamical system. The reasons may be intrinsic causes, some indirect solar or volcanic forcing, or (the) result of anthropogenic forcing.”

If you live in Southcoastal Alaska, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that a significant climate shift has been underway here for years. Temperatures on the Anchorage Hillside were into the high 30s on Wednesday evening with the winds gusting to hurricane force as a storm drove inland from the Gulf of Alaska.

The historic norm for this time of year, according to the National Weather Service, is 20 degrees with a high of 26 degrees and a low of 15. A day with an average temp in the high 30s is what would normally be expected for early October, according to Weather Service data.

The  Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy in an October report described the last five years in the state as a “period of dramatic climate change.” The shifts are most noticeable now and in the spring.

“The date when the state becomes 50 percent snow-covered is arriving a week later in October than it used it, and the spring “snow-off” date—when half the winter snow has melted—is arriving nearly two weeks earlier,” reported.

“Alaska has been warming twice as quickly as the global average since the middle of the 20th century,” the government website added. “Alaska is warming faster than any U.S. state.  ‘Alaska’s Changing Environment’ notes that, since 2014, there have been five to 30 times more record-high temperatures set than record lows.

“On July 4, 2019, all-time temperature records were set in Kenai, Palmer, King Salmon, and Anchorage International Airport. Remarkably, Anchorage hit 90 degrees Fahrenheit; the average summer temperature in Anchorage is normally in the mid-sixties. July 2019 was the hottest month in recorded history for the state. June 2019 was the second warmest on record.

The summer was a change easily overlooked as a pleasant outlier. The changing storm patterns of traditional September-October weather systems coming in November and December is harder to dismiss.

Bit players

What this means on a global scale hard to sort out.

A study published last week in Science Advances illustrated the difficulties of trying to predict the future. Paolo Scussolini from the Institute for Environmental Studies at Vrije University Amsterdam along with colleagues from Norway, Germany, Sweden, France, China, the United Kingdom and the U.S., examined prehistoric evidence of precipitation patterns during the Last Interglacial period 120,000 to 129,000 years ago to try to determine future moisture patterns.

As the planet warms, precipitation becomes as important as temperature. To oversimplify only slightly, warm, dry places become deserts, and warm, wet places become tropical rain forests.

“The Last Interglacial (LIG) is a primary target period for climate research because its climate holds one of the closest, although partial, analogies to possible climates of the coming decades and centuries,” the scientists wrote.

During the LIG, the evidence indicates the planet was slightly warmer than it is today, but it looked a lot different.

“Sea levels were several meters (9 to 10 feet) higher, implying that polar ice sheets were smaller,” the scientists wrote. “Yet, LIG greenhouse gas concentration was comparable to the preindustrial period, with carbon dioxide around 275 parts per million and methane around 700 parts per billion.”

Atmospheric carbon dioxide, the big concern of these times, is now at an unprecedented 407.4 ppm, according to Why temperatures aren’t warmer and sea levels higher as a result is a question to which the answer is unknown.

It could be that the planet has yet to reach its tipping point.

“Much research has used geological evidence to estimate the temperature of the LIG in an effort to understand the thermal response to different orbital forcing constraining the internal feedbacks of the climate system,” Scussolini and his colleagues observed. “Compilations of proxies estimate that during the peak of the LIG (127 to 125 thousand years ago) climate may have been warmer than (present) by 2.0° ± 0.1°C over the whole Earth surface.”

The International Panel on Climate Change predicts that number won’t be hit until 2063 under the high and medium projections for carbon dioxide, primarily from the burning of carbon-based fuels. The low projection pushes the date out to 2100.

But the IPCC is projecting less than a meter of sea-level rise by 2100 – not several meters – in part due to the melting of glaciers and in part due to thermal expansion of seawater. But such changes are even harder to predict than the past is to explain.

It is not fully clear why the temperature went so high in the LIG with carbon-dioxide levels at only about two-thirds of what they are today and methane, an even more potent greenhouse gas, at less than half today’s level.

In the atmosphere, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, sulfur hexafluoride, chlorinated fluorocarbons and especially water vapor all play vital roles in letting the heat of solar rays pass through to warm the planet while preventing the escape of radiant heat from the same solar-warmed earth.

Without greenhouses gases, the earth would be the moon and nothing would be alive here.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency calculates methane is 28 to 36 more efficient than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas. But compared to today’s levels of methane, LIG leves of that gas were very low.

Atmospheric methane levels, like those of carbon dioxide, have been steadily increasing for decades.   The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) puts the current level above 1858 parts per billion — more than two and a half times the level of the LGI.

Climate, which exists in the past and future,  is a complicated puzzle. Weather, which exists in the here and now, is easy:

It’s hot or it’s cold. It’s wet or it’s dry. It’s windy or calm.

And sometimes it’s a combination of all three as it was Wednesday: warm, windy and by the time this story was finished wet with the Weather Service, which had posted a high-wind warning of gusts up to 80 mph early in the day later upping that to warn of “isolated gusts to 100 mph through the evening along the Upper Hillside.”










24 replies »

  1. While it’s raining in Southcentral Alaska, it’s snowing in Southern California. The complete water cycle and how it impacts us is really only beginning to be understood.

    Water fall on land is apparently much more important than even the polar ice caps to the wobble of the earth.

    “The researchers say it’s because the spin axis is very sensitive to changes occurring around 45 degrees latitude, both north and south. “This is well explained in the theory of rotating objects,” Adhikari explained. “That’s why changes in the Indian subcontinent, for example, are so important.”

    “Changes in polar ice appeared to have no relationship to the wobble — only changes in water on land. Dry years in Eurasia, for example, corresponded to eastward swings, while wet years corresponded to westward swings.”

    What does the wobble of the earth have to do with rain in Southcentral Alaska and snow in Southern California? Everything, a small shift in the wobble of the earth can change all our expectations.

    • While the earth wobbles it does so along it’s axial tilt, which ranges from about 22.1 to 24.5 degrees we are currently at about 23.4 degrees and dropping on the roughly 41,000 years cycle. Yakutat in Southeast Alaska is at about the same latitude as Homer in Southcentral Alaska, Kodiak is at about a half a degree below Juneau. Juneau is only about 3 degrees below Anchorage and Yakutat is only about 1.5 degrees below Anchorage. As the angle of our tilt drops the closer the poles get to the sun over the course of the year making seasons blend into each other and changing the relative position of locations like Anchorage to the sun.

      Obviously this is not something that we would notice over a typical human lifetime, but it is one of the many cycles occurring on our world that most are not aware of.

    • Not sure what your smoking Bra’,but 45degrees north latitude is more or less central OR.Spruce trees are slowly moving southwards on Kodiak ,and Ice road season on North Slope has collapsed over the decades.
      Your behind the curve, think a bit.Just what might these changes(if they are long term)might they mean for the State.-

      • You know the 45th parallel goes all the way around the world right, right Bra’? You might want to read the article from NASA that I linked, you could learn a thing or two, I know I did.

  2. It seems like just a few days ago conditions were perfect up in Hatcher’s Pass then in comes another wet system with rain on the tail end of the front?
    Highly unusual for areas like Willow this time of year.
    Thanksgiving was a normally a time of year for snowmachines to be arriving in Skwentna for the first runs of the year.
    Not this year…rivers show no sign of freezing anytime soon in SC.
    December will once again bring dangerous thin ice conditions on lakes and streams.
    No worries for global oil conglomerates though as the holiday travel season is still a high priority in the age of reckoning surrounding climate change.

    • Just think, after next year, the rivers will never freeze again. I mean, since the temps are rising and all – right? Better sell your snowmachines. Enjoy this year fellas.

      • Good luck selling a snowmachine in SC Alaska right now…last check on Alaska’s list showed over 450 for sell. Many with low miles in excellent condition.
        Even harder to sell a remote cabin since the average person without an airplane cannot even travel on the rivers in winter more than one or two months a year now.
        Yes Bryan…this is the new norm up here and no el nina or la nina cycle will change that.

      • Keep the faith Steve, the pen will swing back the other way. Like in a week. Maybe you need to travel up the Parks a bit further. Everything is going to be alright.

      • Bryan,
        I will adapt and make lifestyle changes according to the change in our climate, but the pendulum is not gonna swing back anytime soon.
        This is not about getting out and spinning a track in the snow, it is about a loss of culture.
        Without 20 below freezing to ice up rivers, there is no travel out to the bush from SC.
        Yes, Cantwell and Fairbanks may be colder and have better snowpack…but what about the Yentna and the lifestyle it once afforded?
        I have seen several small lodges sell out and the new owners do not even try to operate a business.
        The lifestyle of snow machining out to Skwentna and staying at a small cabin is just about as finished as the guided salmon fishing in these drainages.
        I have seen drastic changes in the last decade and a half…and I doubt things will return to the way they once were here in SC.
        There is not even a sub zero day in the forecast for the new two weeks.
        That means Christmas week may be the earliest folks get out on the rivers this year.
        A full month behind schedule.
        That is the “new norm”.
        Less winter on the front and less winter in April.
        Instead of 5 months of frozen river travel we might get 3…and that is for those of us the push the envelope.

      • Bryan,
        I would say the link you just provided proves my observations.
        Looking at the month of November…
        6 out of the 10 warmest monthy averages have been since 1997.
        While 6 out of the 10 coldest monthly averages have been before 1994.
        The conclusion would be that it has been noticeable (and verifiably) much warmer in SC Alaska since 1997 and the trend appears to be remaining that way this winter.

      • I trust you looked at the years 1950’s and older right? Funny how “Climate” people can’t go past the 1990’s.

      • If the furthest back we can go for anything resembling reliable data is the 1950’s then we do not have enough data to say if this weather is normal or abnormal. 70 years of data is less than a drop in the bucket. A human’s lifetime means virtually nothing in comparison to the historical record. Steve thinks it’s warm because in the short amount of time he’s lived in Alaska it has warmed up. Old timers remember when it was actually cold, not just the 1990’s version of cold, and before that it was warmer. Salmon stocks have waxed and waned as well, halibut stock and size have done the same. The hubris of man leads to thinking we know entirely more than what we actually do know.

        I might not know much, but I know how to spot those who know even less than I do and pretend they know something. I know how to question and I know how to find the answers to my questions.

      • Steve O…
        Maybe you should stick to “your wobble” theory?
        It seems to fit you well.

        You probably need to look at the chart you posted…it clearly shows the trend is warming up in November for SC Alaska.
        No amount of data can satisfy the “climate deniers” and both U and Steve O definitely fit that bill.
        Don’t worry the sheeple are not gonna stop burning gas anytime soon…neither will the Pentagon.

      • Steve,

        I just wish that you would inform yourself. Your choice to disregard anything that doesn’t fit your predetermined narrative is nothing more than blind faith. I do not deny that the climate changes and is changing, Bryan doesn’t either. You on the other hand dismiss any and everything that dares challenge your dogma. Science has shown that up to 25% of all the atmospheric carbon is cause by freshwater lakes, 25%! and you shrug it off as if it’s nothing. Half of the forests that existed 3,000 years ago are gone, and you shrug it off as if it’s nothing.

        You choose to remain ignorant, some of us choose to be informed. Keep denying science and facts oh ye faithful!

      • Steve,

        The earth wobbles, it’s not a theory but scientifically provable. Maybe you are a flat earther and think the earth isn’t spheroid.

    • The cult:
      “Psychological responses to climate change such as “conflict avoidance, fatalism, fear, helplessness and resignation are growing,” according to a 2017 report by the American Psychological Association and ecoAmerica.

      And they coincide with an array of physical health impacts, such as asthma and allergies.

      At a happy hour for environmentalists in Washington, Alicia Cannon — who works in environmental policy lobbying — was asked whether she was experiencing any climate anxiety.

      Her response: “Oh God, yes.”

      “I think a lot of people that work in climate feel some kind of climate anxiety because it’s such a large-scale issue and it’s overwhelming and you feel that it’s overwhelming because of helplessness,” the 23-year-old said.”

    • Steve,
      Life is about change, decades ago an older than me hippy that i worked with at the old Junaue Cold storage related a saying that I”think” he attributed to robert frost.”Basically everyone here is running from something, or running to something.”Obviously regardless to race,and generation thats very true.
      Nothing stands still, except our perceptions of the present

  3. It’s worth mentioning that our history of tracking local climate only goes back tops 150 years, most of those years were not reliably tracked, maybe the past 40-50 years could be said to have reliably tracked data. We often base our knowledge on our own lifetimes and simply disregard anything that happened before we were born. Most Alaskans haven’t been here for more than 40-50 years and 40-50 years is a short frame of reference.

  4. Since water vapor absorbs the same frequencies of escaping IR that methane does
    and absorbs almost all that energy,
    Increasing or decreasing methane has virtually no effect on the global energy balance.

    C02 absorbs different frequencies than water vapor.

    • Better yet, the instantaneous radiative forcing curve of CO2 levels of the atmosphere is asymptotic, with most of the IR absorption in the first couple hundred PPM of CO2 levels. The curve mostly flattens off after 500 ppm. Cheers –

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