While most of the United States was this year zigging into the fourth warmest November in recorded history, Alaska – or at least the most populated part of it – was zagging back to normal.
The former is the current that sometimes brings cool waters from deep in the Pacific Ocean surging north along the West Coast of North America. The latter is the swirl of air around the north pole as the planet spins on its never-ending journey through space.
With Alaska coming off its warmest year on record in 2019, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrtion’s (NOAA) Climate Prediction center was going with La Nina to shift the weather back closer to normal this year while Judah Cohen, an authority on the polar vortex and the Arctic oscillation at weather consultancy called Atmospheric and Environmental Research (AER) was warning the polar vortex (PV) was looking a lot like 2011.
“There was no significant weakening of the PV that winter and North America was very mild that winter,” he observed, and coastal Alaska got bombed with snow.
So far this year, there has been no replay, but the state’s urban core has edged away from the mild weather of the best several falls toward a normal normal, according to the National Weather Service.
November 2020 was, in fact, about as close to normal as normal gets around the head of Cook Inlet, the 180-mile long finger of the Pacific that laps at the doorstep of the Anchorage Metropolitan area home to more than half of the state’s population.
Of the 69 Novembers on record, the Weather Service reported the past one posted temperatures and precipitation near the middle or lower-middle of the range:
- 33rd coldest
- 26th snowiest
- 20th wettest
The way we were
Newcomers to the state are to be excused if they thought this was anything other than normal given that it has been eight years since the Anchorage area saw a November so cold and five years since it saw one so snowy, according to the agency.
Election Day was especially frosty this year, going into the record books as the second coldest in history. Only election day 1956 was colder with an average temperature of two degrees, according to the agency.
Alaska was still a territory then and thus denied a vote in the presidential election. The year turned out to be one of the coldest in Anchorage history, according to the Alaska Climate Research Center.
Where this soon to be official “winter” seasons goes from here remains to be seen. The national Climate Prediction Center foresees warmer than normal temperatures north of the Alaska Range for the rest of this month plus January and February, largely due to the shortage of ice in the Arctic Ocean.
But south of the Alaska Range and south along the Gulf of Alaska coast all the way to Canada, the prediction is that winter will look a lot like November only possibly with a little less precipitation. The temperatures are forecast to remain below normal.
Most of the rest of the nation – with the exception of the Pacific Northwest, northeast Montana and the Dakotas – is expected to experience normal to above normal temperatures, which is in and of itself largely normal.
When Alaska zags, the rest of the national invariably zigs. You can pretty much count on it being balmy in Anchorage if it’s freezing in Florida.
The climate center is calling for Florida to be warm from now through early 2021, which goes with Alaska being colder.