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Climate change plays havoc with winter temperatures in Alaska

Downtown Kodiak, Alaska from Pillar Mountain on July, 14, 2021. Source - James Brooks, CC SA 2.0.
Downtown Kodiak, Alaska from Pillar Mountain on July, 14, 2021. Source - James Brooks, CC SA 2.0.

An unusual winter warm spell in Alaska has brought daytime temperatures soaring past 60 degrees Fahrenheit (15.5°C) and torrents of rain at a time of year normally associated with bitter cold and fluffy snow.

The Guardian is reporting that at the island community of Kodiak, the air temperature at a tidal gauge hit 19.4C (67F) degrees on Sunday, the highest December reading ever recorded in Alaska, said scientist Rick Thoman of the Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy. He called it “absurd.”

Thoman explained that this new record comes amidst a number of December extremes this year – including 65 degrees at the Kodiak airport, a record 62 degrees at the Alaska Peninsula community of Cold Bay, and at least eight December days of temperatures above 50 at the Aleutian town of Unalaska, including a 56-degree reading that was Alaska’s warmest Christmas Day on record.

According to the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, Alaska is warming faster than any other U.S. state and twice as quickly as the global average since the middle of the 20th century.

“Alaska’s Changing Environment notes that, since 2014, there have been 5 to 30 times more record-high temperatures set than record lows,” the NOAA said on its website.

NOAA’s 2021 Arctic Report Card, issued on December 14, 2021, documented the numerous ways that climate change continues to fundamentally alter the Arctic region.

This rig out of Healy Station on the Parks Hwy was out plowing 10″ of snow on the morning of December 23. Source – Alaska DOT&PF

The October-December 2020 period was the warmest Arctic autumn on record dating back to 1900. The average surface air temperature over the Arctic this past year (October 2020-September 2021) was the 7th warmest on record.

This warming has immediate implications for Alaskans – with massive amounts of precipitation dumped on interior Alaska, where the Fairbanks area was hit by its fiercest mid-winter storm since 1937, Thoman said.

Normally, in December, the Alaskan interior sees a dry month because cold air cannot hold much moisture. Whatever moisture does flow in tends to be “the more fluffy powder because the air is nice and cold”, said Thoman, who lives in Fairbanks.

But so much snow fell that on Sunday it caved in the roof of the sole grocery store in Delta Junction, a town 95 miles (153km) south-east of Fairbanks.

Alaska DOT&PF

The heavy snows were followed by torrential rains that coated everything in ice, causing extensive power outages – leading to the event’s new name – Icemageddon.

“Ice is extremely difficult to remove once it has binded to the road surface. Even though air temps were warm during ‘icemageddon2021’, roads were at sub-zero temps, which caused ice to bind to the surface,” the Alaska Department for Transportation said on Twitter.

Rain in Alaska at this time of year is almost unheard of, but the state isn’t the only place seeing changes due to climate change. In August, rain fell on Greenland’s tallest mountain for the first time since records began being kept there in 1950.

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We are deeply saddened to announce the passing of our dear friend Karen Graham, who served as Editor-at-Large at Digital Journal. She was 78 years old. Karen's view of what is happening in our world was colored by her love of history and how the past influences events taking place today. Her belief in humankind's part in the care of the planet and our environment has led her to focus on the need for action in dealing with climate change. It was said by Geoffrey C. Ward, "Journalism is merely history's first draft." Everyone who writes about what is happening today is indeed, writing a small part of our history.

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