The high temperature in Alaska’s largest city hit 22 degrees on Sunday – 13 degrees below normal and 26 degrees below the record temperature set in 1998, according to National Weather Service records.
Anchorage was then in the middle of a span of globally warmed years that had many talking about a Seattle-esque “new normal.” Then came New Year’s Day 2020 when the warm, rainy weather of previous years did an about-face back to the cold, snowy weather of Alaska history, and now everything looks to be, at least temporarily, back to normal.
Or maybe better than normal, or worse, depending on one’s views on snow and cold.
“Anchorage’s remarkable run of sub-freezing days continues,” the Weather Service posted on its Facebook page a week ago. “Today (March 15th) is the 50th day in a row with a high temperature at or below freezing. This is already in the top 10 for longest streaks on record (1952-present).”
“February was entirely below freezing for only the third time on record and halfway through March, we still haven’t reached 32°F. The seven-day forecast continues sub-freezing high temperatures through March 21st. Beyond that, all global forecast models continue the sub-freezing conditions through the end of the month. While the global model outputs are not actual forecasts, they support the idea of continued cool/cold conditions.”
Alaskans were warned
Score one for Judah Cohen, the guru of the polar vortex at the weather consultancy Atmospheric and Environmental Research (AER).
Back in October, he cautioned that early snowfall in Siberia would give the vortex the jitters and the northern hemisphere might pay the price. A relatively mild December in Gulf Coast Alaska made that prediction look a little questionable, but now….
Snow like Anchorage hasn’t seen in years. Mid-month temperatures in the Interior near 40 degrees below zero, cold enough to make mushers in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race thankful the COVID-19 modified course was turning back for Anchorage instead of pushing on into the frigid Yukon River basin. And a National Climate Prediction Center warning that northerly winds raise the “probabilities of below normal temperatures for southern, mainland Alaska” through mid-April.
Southern mainland Alaska is the center’s description for the north Gulf of Alaska coast at the heart of which beats the state’s urban core now home to almost 65 percent of the Alaska population.
Along with the continuing cold there, the climate center is predicting that “anomalous troughing and several shortwave disturbances (will) lead to enhanced probabilities of above-normal precipitation.”
Given the expected temperatures, that precipitation is likely to fall as yet more snow. Some Alaskans – snowmachine enthusiasts, skiers and snowboarders, fat-tired cyclists, dog mushers, backcountry adventurers who can put on a pair of snowshoes and go almost anywhere when the conditions are right – will embrace this news.
Others, primed for the arrival of spring, will welcome it about as much as the flu.
How this shakes out as weather, however, is not so clear. The planet’s prehistory records shifting areas of warm and cold, and some scientists now believe there was a time 3 to 4 billion years ago when Earth was wholly covered by water.
“An early Earth without emergent continents may have resembled a ‘water world’, providing an important environmental constraint on the origin and evolution of life on earth as well as its possible existence elsewhere,” geochemist Benjamin Johnson and geobiologist Boswell Wing theorized in a paper published in Nature Geoscience earlier this month.
How we got from there to where we are today on a planet with landmasses vital for the survival of billions of home sapiens will no doubt be debated by scientists for years. The more we learn, the more questions we raise.
The planet’s climate is complicated. Meteorologists have spent decades trying to figure it out. They have developed sophisticated models to help aid their predictions. On Sunday night, those models were predicting generally cold and dry weather through Wednesday.
Beyond that, however, all bets were off.
As the old-timers in Alaska have observed, the only thing constant about the weather is change.