Colder warming



Alaska’s largest city ended the year 2022 tracking decades-old climate predictions that Anchorage would become more like Juneau and Juneau more like Seattle.

The National Weather Service reported the year just passed was the wettest on record in the 61-year weather history of Anchorage and the city’s seventh warmest year.

The warm temperatures could be seen as the continuation of a trend or part of the end of one. The years 2014, 2015, 2016, 2018 and 2019 were all warmer with the latter the warmest ever.  The Alaska heat wave that year generated national news and a lot of references to “Baked Alaska.”

“Alaska just had the most ridiculous summer. That’s a red flag for the planet,” warned a CNN headline beneath which , CNN  chief climate correspondent, warned that “America’s ‘Last Frontier’ feels like the first in line to see, smell and feel the unsettling signs of a climate in crisis.”

Temperatures mellowed in 2020. The statewide annual average temperature fell more than four and a half degrees from the record 32.2 of 2019 to a more Alaska-like 27.5, according to National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration  (NOAA) records. Twenty-twenty-one was even colder at 26.5.

Anchorage followed the trend.  With an end-of-the-year average temperature only a half degree lower than the then 59-year climate record, 2021 turned out to be an almost perfectly normal year for most Alaskans, about 60 percent of whom live in the Anchorage metro area.

Twenty-twenty-two has proven warmer, but what had come to be viewed as the start of a “new normal” near the beginning of the decade remains in doubt.

From a 24.3-degree average in 2012, statewide temperatures climbed almost steadily toward that 2019 record. Temperatures have slumped since. Twenty-twenty-two could mark a shift back toward the warmer weather of the late 2010s or turn out to be part of a cluster of nearer-normal temperatures to mark the start of the 2020s.

Time will well.

Climate change

The global climate might be warming, but local weather is never a straight-line affair. Almost everything in nature functions in cycles and weather as much as anything else. Alaska weather history is a chain of peaks and valleys with periods of warmer than normal or colder than normal clustering over spans of five or 10 years on a scale oscillating over periods of decades.

From 1945 to 1975, NOAA records show that Alaska’s annual averages rarely reached today’s mean though the year-by-year variation shifted by as much as six degrees. In the 20 years before that, the norm only briefly fell below the mean while annual variations shifted by more than six degrees.

The biggest shift on record came in 1975 when the annual, statewide average climbed above the mean and largely stayed there. Over the course of the last 47 years, it has dropped below the mean only eight times and never by more than two degrees.

The 24.3-degree average of 2012, the coldest year in the 2010  time span, was warmer than 10 of the years between 1945 and 1975 and within half a degree of five others, according to NOAA data. 

Alaska salmon have been big beneficiaries of this climate shift that began about the time the Vietnam War ended. Average annual commercial harvests have done nothing but go up as Alaska has warmed. They rose from less than 100 million in the 1970s to an average of 122.4 million per year in the 1980s, 157.5 million in the 1990s, 167.4 million in the 2000s, and approximately 181 million in the 2010s. 

Pink salmon, the smallest of the species have driven the boom and have in some areas, been accused of suppressing the production of bigger and more valuable Chinook, sockeye and coho, salmon. But overall, salmon have been big beneficiaries of the northern climate shift.

How long this will continue is impossible to say, but the upward creep of global temperature appears here to stay. The scientific consensus is that all or part of the increase is due to human-driven emissions of so-called greenhouse gases – mainly carbon dioxide and methane.

Global efforts to reduce emissions have been hampered by a lack of good energy alternatives, a growing global population despite the pandemic, and politics. Though the production of so-called “green” or “renewable” energy has been growing rapidly, the United Nations  Environment Programme in October warned there is “no credible path” toward a hoped-for goal of limiting the global average increase to 1.5 degrees Centigrade (2.7F) above the globe’s pre-industrial temperature.

They projected an increase of 2.4 to 2.6C by the end of the decade. The projection has raised fear of widespread coastal flooding around the globe and deadly heat waves in the middle latitude. The higher latitudes are expected to fare better although projections are all over the place.

Competing interests

ProPublica and the New York Times Magazine contend “incredible growth could await those places soon to enter their prime. Canada, Scandinavia, Iceland and Russia each could see as much as fivefold bursts in their per capita gross domestic products by the end of the century so long as they have enough people to power their economies at that level.”

Meanwhile, the Center for International and Strategic Studies sees Russia’s future sinking into a gooey Siberia plagued by melting permafrost melting “dramatic shifts in global weather patterns, accelerated by warming Arctic waters and a diminishing ice cap, are expected to increase droughts in Russia’s rich southern agricultural “bread basket” regions encompassing Stavropol and Rostov. This could pose food security risks and threaten a primary Russian export: wheat.”

Before the invasion of Ukraine, Russian leaders were talking about the need for efforts to slow the emissions of greenhouse gases while acting the opposite. The situation has only grown worse since.

The was has “not only wreaked havoc in oil and gas markets, raising daunting energy and economic challenges for European and other energy-importing economies, but they have also spurred grave environmental and climate-related concerns. These arise in part from the impact of the conflict on import-dependent energy consumers, among whom record natural gas prices and heightened global competition for liquefied natural gas supplies have encouraged a resurgence of coal burning and associated greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, as well as a renewed policy focus on energy security, potentially at the expense of climate ambitions,” energy experts at Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy observed earlier this month.

“But the conflict also raises serious concerns about the emissions trajectory of Russia itself, a top fossil fuel producer and leading GHG emitter. Even before the invasion, Russia counted among the world’s main sources of anthropogenic methane emissions, a greenhouse gas whose short-term warming power is more than 80 times that of carbon dioxide. Since the invasion, the prospect of reducing these emissions has seemed increasingly unlikely.”

Environmental concerns usually take a backset during wars, see the U.S. use of Agent Orange, a powerful and debilitating defoliant, in Vietnam. 

Alaska is, luckily, a long way from the latest  major war, but it’s climate future paralells that of Russia, Canada and Scandanavia.  Alaska could become a popular North American climate refuge or an economic disaster as green-power advocates push for an end to oil and gas prodution and warm water finally catches up with Alaska’s salmon.

Climate scientists have predicted a general reduction in ocean habitat for salmon by 2080, which could bring to an end the decades of salmon bounty. But no one really knows, and none of the predictions are worth much in terms of what happens in the next decade or so anyway.

Weather, especially Alsaka weather, is subject to large, year-to-year variations. Climate smooths the range of the ups and downs over the decades, but that means little in the short term. The 4.5-degree C change between the Alaska average temperatures in 2012 and 2016 is way bigger than the 2.4 to 2.6C global rise expected for the globe in general by 2300.

And then there are the regional differences. Annual temperature changes are not uniform around the globe. Alaska could once claim to be the fastest-warming state in the nation, but New England is now laying claim to that title.  National Public Radio (NPR) was this week reporting how warm winters were putting snowplow drivers out of work there while Anchorage residents were still complaining about roads plugged with snow after the snowiest December in decades.

And Atmospheric and Environmental Research’s Noah Cohen, an authority on polar climate, is predicting more could be coming as a pocket of brutally cold Siberian air spills into Alaska. As this was written, the temperature in the Siberian capital of Yakutsk was 55 degrees below zero, a significant warming from the reported minus-80 a couple of days earlier. 

Cohen reported record cold air in the stratosphere above Siberia this week and warned that chaos could be about to break loose.

“One thing seems to be coming clearer, another stretched polar vortex that favors a cold pattern east of the Rockies in North America is likely to begin this week, but the cold arrives the last week of January,” he wrote.

Siberia has been impressively cold with temperatures reaching lower than -62°C/-80°F.  I stick with my idea cold that starts in Siberia can spread to lower latitudes.  We are already observing cold temperatures coupled with snow spread south across China.  Snow cover extent is currently well above normal across China (see Figure 19).  I saw on Twitter temperatures between -40 and -50°C observed/predicted in China. Cold and snow that starts in China often is a precursor to cold and snow across North America east of the Rockies with stretched PV events (a recent nice example of this was February 2021).  Based on the weather models, the cold temperature anomalies and positive anomalous snow cover extent anomalies are most impressive in Asia currently, but that should transfer to North America east of the Rockies by the end of January.”

It’s possible some Anchorage residents could soon be looking at those snow-short, global-warming winters as the good old days. They might be advised to keep the snow-moving equipment handy. The record warm year of 2019 is start to seem long in the past.

16 replies »

    • Our magnetic field is also weakening as the core slows and, for a time, stop until the reversal ramps up. In the meantime, our magnetic field will not protect us by deflecting the solar wind. In fact, the ongoing weakening of the field may be responsible for observed contemporary climate warming.
      If the magnetic field actually reverses there may be catastrophic consequences in climatic and tectonic forces. Better stock up on sun screen now.

  1. All this talk about volcanos and industrial emissions. Let us not ignore the Sun, or all of East Anglia lies. Humans have less influence on climate than I have national politics. And please get your mRNA boosters, it getting a tad crowded around here.

  2. Breaking news that Hilcorp will liquefy NG on the Slope and truck it to Fairbanks.
    I think that’s great but what about all the other value-added products we should be producing from our abundant natural gas? Plastics, Fertilizer, Resins…

  3. The world is flat and water causes autism and we never landed on the moon and George Sorros and his family runs a secret world government and the Clintons are lizard people and Arrhenius…wait who? If you don’t know who Arrhenius was and if ya don’t don’t understand his math, ya really should not be pooh poohing industrial green house gases.

  4. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas in laboratory test chambers which contain no water vapor. Water vapor is excluded from the test chambers because it absorbs the same energy frequencies as methane and would ruin the tests.
    In the real atmosphere, when methane absorbs energy, it reduces the energy available to be absorbed by H2O by an equal amount. Consequently, increasing atmospheric methane does not increase the greenhouse effect by any detectable amount.
    If the atmosphere was methane free, the same energy frequencies would be absorbed by the water vapor. The greenhouse effect would be unchanged.

    • Ken: Water vapor is without a doubt a huge player in the greenhouse, but I have to disagree with your suggestion of a near equal offset with water and methane. There’s a condensability issue, and I’ll bow to the American Chemical Society on that issue:

      That said, it is interesting that the estimated 50 million tonnes of water vapor ejected by the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apa volcano is being talked about as “could warm earth for years.” Especially interesting given that big volcanic eruptions usually cool rather than warm the planet.

      Mother Nature seems to enjoy messing with us.

      • Craig,
        The article doesn’t directly address this issue. With CO2, the issue is different because water vapor absorbs very little of the IR frequencies that CO2 absorbs. There is little overlap, so increasing absorption by CO2 doesn’t reduce the energy at the frequencies available for H2O to absorb. The CO2 greenhouse effect adds to the H2O effect. Of course CO2 at current levels is already generating over 98 percent of the greenhouse effect it is capable of.
        Methane’s absorption frequencies directly overlap H2O’s frequencies, so the greenhouse effects caused by changes in methane concentration is mostly offset by corresponding reductions or increases in the H2O effect. There is a fixed amount of IR, at methane’s frequencies, radiating from the Earth’s surface that can be absorbed by greenhouse gases. If methane didn’t exist, H2O would be absorbing and reradiating almost all of it.
        The two places this is less true are at the poles because the air there is usually very dry. Very little if any H2O greenhouse effect there, so methane increases or decreases can significantly change total the greenhouse effect in these areas because the H2O greenhouse effect is so small. The question is how much methane manages to circulate to the poles before it breaks down into other chemicals.

    • True. But it’s also true that events that happen on the surface of the planet can alter the flux in the atmosphere above whether they are the results of meteor strikes, volcanoes, an increase in absorbed solar radiation or other factors. We would be an other factor. I tend to believe our influence may be somewhat over-rated here. As a climate scientist told me decades ago, before the current climate hysteria took over, the ability of the oceans to increase or decrease their CO2 production dwarfs us, but the correlation between the state of the Industrial Age, the increase in human CO2 production and warming is hard to ignore.

      We do appear to have a hand in this, or at least a fingerprint. The googol dollar question is what to do about it. A solution that sparks major economic disruptions might cause greater damage than the warming. The Great Depresion set the stage for World War II. The first truly global war in the history of our species. God only knows what another global warm might look like, but the “nuclear winter” scenario that has been suggested would certainly solve the global warming problem.

      • The nuclear winter suggestion has actually been tested, at least a little bit. First proposed in 1983. Based on a model (there’s that word again) that showed massive amounts of soot injected into the atmosphere would cool things a bit. Became a big deal in 1990. Disproved in 1991 when Saddam torched over 700 wells and oil lakes in Kuwait on his way out of country. Lots of soot. No measured temp difference in the Persian Gulf over the 11 months it took to put the fires out. None afterwards.

        The volcanic connection with cooling is problematic. Paektu on the Nork – China border popped 946 AD. Eruption was about as big as Tambora in 1815. No cooling from Paektu. Noticeable cooling from Tambora. Even Katmai – Novarupta showed no cooling. Location of the volcano seems to be a factor. Close to the poles, the aerosols seem to be contained by jet streams closer to the poles, producing a local rather than a global effect. The closer to the equator, the better those aerosols (SO2 mostly) spread and reflect sunlight.

        All the cooling / warming predictions are based on models. Problem is that the system has too many variables (who knew that location of massive volcanic eruptions would be a variable?), and we don’t have a handle on what is or is not a variable as yet, much less how they play together. Infamously, current models don’t even consider cloud cover which operates as a thermostat in certain parts of the world (tropics, for instance).

        One of the things that happen during ice ages is that CO2 levels in the atmosphere fall. Last time around, it was in the upper end of the range where plant life started having problems (too low). Plants today are very happy due to higher CO2 levels, coverage up 11% or so over the last 30 years mostly in arid regions worldwide. Interesting discussion. Cheers –

      • Great analysis of the topic of “global warming”.
        I reflect on the evidence of the last glacial retreat here and conclude that the earth has definitely warmed for some time. I wonder if seeding the oceans with iron is still a viable idea and what is the expected outcome.
        Also, I anticipate the human race will continue to use less and less CO2 emitting fuel over time as alternative technologies advance.
        World population growth is a more serious concern for humanity to me. That, and AI.

  5. Using “pre-industrial levels” as the benchmark in global temperatures is using the lowest possible starting point in the last 1,000 years, rivaling the coolest periods in the last 10,000 years since the end of the last ice age. In fact science tells us during the Climatic optimum from 5,000 to 3,000 BC the global climate was approximately 1-2 degrees Celsius warmer than it is now, this is the time that science also tells us that civilization began to flourish. It’s amazing to me that because something is currently the way it is many assume it is the way it has always been, especially when all the evidence shows us that the way some think it’s always been isn’t in fact the way it’s always been.

    And then we have lake Issyk-Kul in Kyrgyzstan freezing over Issyk-Kul means ‘warm lake’ and it apparently never freezes over because of it’s depth and warm waters.

  6. According to the Manhattan Institute the world has spent 5 trillion dollars in the last 20 years to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. That spend has reduced hydro carbons share of energy production from 85% to 82%. Meanwhile the elites party at WEF in Davos riding on private jets emitting more carbon dioxide than you will in your life. We should have spent that 5 trillion helping the homeless and drug addicted.

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