Colder than…

The Fairbanks Fred Meyer posting a real Alaska temp

With the snow squeaky cold and the temperature pushing toward 20 degrees below zero on the Tour of Anchorage Trail late Sunday night, the “new normal” with which some in Alaska’s largest city had become comfortable seemed far, far away.

This was the old Alaska, not the new one of a globally warming planet.

A year earlier, the minimum Anchorage temperature for the same day had been near 40 degrees warmer at 21 with the day’s high climbing to two degrees above freezing.

Anchorage hasn’t sniffed the freezing mark in two weeks. The chill that started on Nov. 8 has only grown chillier.

Cold paws

Lars could feel it in his Labrador retriever feet. Born with stiff, oily fur, his hot-blooded feet are not prone to ice balls. But at temperatures down past 10 degrees below zero those feet, depending on the dew point, melt snow that almost instantly freezes and ice grows between his toes.

Dog booties were invented for these sorts of conditions long, long ago. I’m old enough to remember the late Idiatod dog driver Herbie Nayokpuk, the Shishmaref Cannonball, showing off some made of sealskin in the way his ancestors had made them for generations.

Whether he ever used them, I don’t know. When seen on the trail when conditions demanded booties in the 1980s, his dogs invariably sported the same cheap and expendable nylon or pile boots as everyone else’s dogs.

Lars could have used some booties of any sort, but I hadn’t thought to bring them. It seemed a long time since they’d been needed, but then again it wasn’t that long.

Credit the adaptability and the fallibility of the human brain. We’re quick to adjust to what was recent as if it always was.

Whether one accepted Seattle-like winters in Anchorage as the new normal or not, the expectation becomes for the new winter to be like the winter of the year before.

And there’s no denying Alaska has gone through a balmy period of late.

Seattle north

The year 2019 was the warmest in Alaska history, and it stretched into the start of 2020. It was 45 degrees and raining downtown in the city on New Year’s Eve of 2019, and though the temperatures started falling fast the next day, the year 2020 was still relatively mild.

The Alaska Climate Center reported the average temperature for the year was 0.4 degrees above the 1981 to 2010 average but noted that the state “was noticeably cooler in 2020 than in the previous seven years.”

Little could anyone know it was the start of a trend. The National Weather Service is reporting that at this time Anchorage is tracking 1.1 degrees below that average for the year, and forecasts don’t call for much warming any time soon.

Temperatures are predicted to creep into the double digits above zero today, but again be heading toward double digits below zero by the weekend. 

Whether this is a blip in global-warming time – the planet is in general is warming up – or the start of a prolonged shift back to the old Alaska no one can say.

But there are some signs the old normal might be back to stay for a while. The Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO), a well-documented pulsation in the temperatures of the Gulf of Alaska, has gone cold.

“The one feature related to the negative PDO that concerns me most is the disappearance of the ‘warm blob’ in the Gulf of Alaska or maybe more accurately its migration to the central North Pacific,” Judah Cohen, an authority on the polar vortex and the Arctic oscillation, wrote on his blog last week. “I do think that it probably contributed to ridging just offshore or along the west coast of North America that sustained troughing in eastern North America for most of the past decade.  But this idea that extratropical sea surface temperatures can force the phase and amplitude of mid-tropospheric waves is far from settled.”

These troughs and waves – ripples in the atmosphere, in effect – disrupted the normal west to east flow of air around the planet as it spun its way through space.

There were regular pulses of wind from southwest to northeast that picked up warm, tropical air in the Pacific Ocean and delivered it north to Alaska courtesy of what has come to be known as the “pineapple express.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) describes this phenomenon as an “atmospheric river.” This river has regularly rained on Alaska in recent winters.

And now?

Who knows.

Cohen, who has proven better than most at predicting what this all means, was last week hedging his bet. The U.S. Climate Prediction Center is saying it is likely the temperatures in Alaska’s urban core will be below normal for December, January and February. 

Anchorage snow-lovers – of which there are many – might look at this as a good thing, but the Climate Center is also predicting below-normal snowfall south of the Talkeetna Range and down onto the Kenai Peninsula.

Still, precipitation is forecast to be closer to normal within a day’s driving distance north from the Anchorage metro area, as if anything was ever normal in Alaska.










9 replies »

  1. Your pic showing a price of $2.42 per gallon is most certainly old Alaska…….maybe even pre-Fred Meyer or pre-pipeline.

  2. Hi Craig,
    Wishing You and Your Family a Happy, Healthy, and Blessed, Thanksgiving. Appreciate the efforts You make for this important website.
    All The Best,

  3. Your conclusion is spot on.

    We don’t have normal here, it’s just not what we do. The best we can hope for is an average and even that can be misleading. What do we have maybe 50 years of semi-reliable weather data? I think July is the only month I haven’t been snowed on and I’m sure I could remedy that next year if I went to the right (wrong) place.

  4. John Coleman founder of the weather channel called global warming a scam. He said it had gained so much power that the only thing that would derail it was a few bitterly cold winters. So glad they installed those wind mills to kill the birds on fire island instead of a bridge so more people could enjoy it safely.

    • CIRI owns Fire Island. The windmills were part 1 of what looks like a poorly thought out plan to push infrastructure out to the island. Their problem is they went for the quick $$$ win with the first 8 units. There was a phase 2 & 3 planned, but not yet built. Doesn’t mean they still would like to do it if they could make a buck.

      An alternate approach would have been to site an energy research station on Fire Island aimed at developing Bush-sized alternate and conventional energy approaches. Then they would have an excuse to hook the output up to the Railbelt grid, install a bridge / causeway, and develop the remaining land and sell it for homes and businesses. But they went for the quick win instead which so far stopped everything else. Cheers –

  5. It is really amazing and I mean REALLY amazing how gullible and stoopid millions of people are – Global Warming, “Climate Change”, the Covid “we’re all gonna die” brainwashing, the whole Rittenhouse thingy, Kavanaugh, Russian and Ukranian Collusion, Hunter is just a businessman sitting on Chinese boards while selling his paintings for $500k/ea, or the BLM lies, etc..
    According to Al Gore cold is actually warm. So, it must be so…
    One could make billions hoodwinking such gullible fools….oh wait….

  6. Those Native seal skin dog booties were traditionally used short distances while hunting or traveling. They were never intended for putting in seventy milers day after day (as in Herbie’s day was about the daily Iditarod run.) Herbie knew that left on for a whole day even the softest tanned leather would have galled the dogs’ wrists under their leather draw strings. So they used much softer cloth and pile.

    • Rod,
      Thanks for fleshing out details.Your experience adds great insight.

      Craig,A La Nina winter has been projected with a 70% chance throughout the winter and into spring since late summer(it was just raining and sloppy wet in the woods less than a month to go).
      No telling how it will end up ,but last few yrs have seen dramatic end of winter snow fall.

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