Dousing the fire

Cabela’s parking lot in Anchorage on Monday/Craig Medred photo


UPDATE: Flooding from this drenched has closed a number of road in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough:

The rain was falling heavily again in Alaska’s largest city on Monday morning, and a June that was gloriously or terrifyingly warm – based on one’s views on global warming – seemed far away.

A rain-soaked July had already washed away memories of a June that set a record for days of 75 degrees or warmer, and August was started off following July’s trend.

 The National Weather Service was predicting a Monday high “near 60” with more rain and warnings of flooding.

“Accumulated rainfall Sunday night into this morning with additional rainfall today into Tuesday may bring area creaks and streams to bankfull or slightly above bankfull,” the agency said in a special weather statement. 

To the north in the sprawling Matanuska-Susitna rivers basin, there was a full-on flood warning with “between 2 and 3 inches of rain” with “additional rainfall amounts of 1 to 2 inches possible.

“River gages on Willow Creek and the Little Susitna River indicated rapid rises in water levels overnight with water levels expected to continue rising today,” the weather statement for what Alaskans widely call “The Valley” said.

Credit or blame the media, again depending on your climate warming views.

Dangerous predictions

There is an adage in journalism that warns that when journalists try to predict the future they often seem to end up triggering the opposite, and journalists were all over a “hot-laska” at the end of June and into July.

“Alaska experiencing wildfires it’s never seen before,” the Associated Press headlined on July 24 even as the rains were starting to wash away the “Alaska…on Track for a Record Fire Season that Yale 360 had reported 18 days earlier.

“Fires have ripped through 2 million acres so far this year, roughly 10 times the total area burned in all of 2021,” the climate watchers at Yale reported.

“”While this doesn’t guarantee a record fire season this year, it does illustrate how dry conditions are across the state,’ the Bureau of Land Management’s Alaska Fire Service said in a statement. ‘It’s also an indicator of how busy firefighters have been so far this season with several months still left to go.'”

The record fire season in Alaska saw 6.6 million acres go up in flames in 2004 in a state where fire has always been a key part of the ecosystem and where many wildland fires are still left to burn themselves out. 

The 2004 burn topped a record that dated back to 1957 when more than 5 million acres burned, according to a history compiled by University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) researchers. 

How many acres burned every summer before fire suppression efforts started in the state in the 1940s are unknown, but records recorded 4.5 million acres burned in 1940 and another 3.6 million in 1941 as suppression efforts were just gearing up.

Thanks to federal firefighting efforts, the acreage burned was down to 1 million acres in 1949 when attitudes toward wildland fires shifted.

“As discussed in the conclusion of this report,” UAF’s Susan Todd and Holly Ann Jewkes wrote in their 2006 history, “data over the past 54 years indicate that lightning has been responsible for 86 percent of the acreage burned in Alaska.”

Or, in simpler terms, 86 percent of the fire were natural.

“But during most of the 1950s, the BLM continued to be skeptical of the role
lightning might play in igniting fires in Alaska,” they wrote. “The (federal) Division of Forestry’s 1951 annual report continued to blame humans and, more specifically, Natives for most of the fires:’The Alaskan Native has proven himself to be the most dangerous firebug that is loose in the Alaska bush today.’

“The division also reported that hunters and trappers, regardless of race, used fire. For example, muskrat hunters lit fires around ponds to drive
the animals to open water where they became easy targets. Hunters also burned thick brush to facilitate travel and make it easier to spot game.”

Views on fire began to change after a 1947 burn “decimated” the Kenai Peninsula. That view, however, came to be “questioned by an increasing
number of biologists, who were beginning to understand the
ecological benefits of fire,” Todd and Jewkes observed. Post-fire “studies caused them to question this assumption. These studies indicated that large
areas of burned spruce were coming back in willow and aspen,
which moose prefer as a food source.”

Let it burn

Those studies would establish the groundwork for what became a “let burn” policy across much of Alaska, and that policy would in subsequent years lead to a lot of Alaska on fire every summer.

Since the start of the 21st Century, a seesawing pattern of Alaska wildfire has resulted in an average acreage burned of about 1.5 million acres per year, according to the International Arctic Research Center at UAF.

The 2021 fire season was about a sixth of the average with but 255,000 acres burned, according to the Alaska Wildlife Fire Information Center. 

This year’s fire season is more than double the average to date at 3.1 million acres, but anything near a record seems unlikely.

The Alaska fire season is historically in decline by the end of July, according to the Arctic Research Center, and the fires burning in August are largely “drought driven.”

Much of the state is now anything but drought stricken, and fall  – if not winter – is in the air in places already.

The Weather Service’s northern Alaska forecast for Monday called for ” snow above 2,000 feet in the Brooks and Alaska Ranges with up to 4 inches of accumulation locally in the Brooks Range, and 2 to 6 inches in the Alaska
Range. Temperatures will be cooler as cold air wraps around the
low pressure system(moving) into state.”

Tourists visiting Denali National Park and Preserve, the biggest tourist attraction in Central Alaska, were promised a taste of the real north today with temperatures dropping near freezing with snow flurries expected.

For Tuesday, the Weather Service was forecasting “snow showers likely before 7 a.m., then rain and snow showers likely between 7 a.m. and 10 a.m., then rain showers likely after 10 a.m.”

It is supposed to clear up and warm up to a high of 66 by Friday, but then the rain that helped doused the Clear fire just south of the park starts again.

The rain in July had Anchorage looking like rain-forested Southeast Alaska. The state’s largest city posted its fifth rainiest July in the past 71 years, which helped to drown out the warmth of June.

The average monthly temperature of 59.5 degrees ended up a tenth below normal, according to the Weather Service.

The temperature did ht 75 degrees on July 2, but it was all downhill from there. Still, the month did see the temperatures hitting 70 degrees or better on eight days, which is good by Anchorage standards, and the month continued a 71-year tradition of remaining snow free.

The 49th state is now, however, already in its cool-down phase as the earth tilts and it begins to move farther away from the sun. July’s historical average temperature of 66.2 degrees drops to 57.5 degrees in August as the daylight hours shrink from 17 hours, four minutes at the start of the month to 1 to 14 hours, 19 minutes at month’s end. 

The city is now only a little over a month away from what is historically its first frost. Alaska might be warming up, but it’s still not all that hot compared to the rest of the U.S.


5 replies »

  1. If you have never researched “Operation Popeye” online, give it a try.
    Here is an interesting video of Lyndon Johnson in 1962 giving a commencement speech where he speaks of weather satellites and “controlling the cloud layer”.
    He goes on to say, “He who controls the weather, controls the world”.
    Imagine if Trump or Biden started to talk about stuff like this 🙂

  2. A team of researchers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory looking into the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai eruption in January have shown that this singular eruption launched water into the stratosphere and even into the mesosphere, higher than has ever before been observed. Their calculations show that seawater from the eruption increased the total amount of water in the stratosphere by approximately 10%. This single eruption is expected to increase global temperatures for years if not decades to come and potentially damage the ozone layer.

    • True kinda, but it’s never been this warm since humans evolved.

      Scientists say . “Twenty years from now, we will look back on the summer of 2022 and we will wish that we had it this good. We will wish it was this cool. And that’s not an exaggeration whatsoever.”

      • “it’s never been this warm since humans evolved.” That’s so demonstrably false it’s just silly. It really is amazing the things that some people believe.

Leave a Reply