Month After Month, Year After Year, Warming Continues in Alaska; and Now, Nearly No Snow

Nov 18, 2016

National Weather Service meteorologist Rick Thoman says last month was the warmest and driest October on record for Alaska. And he says it’s a continuation of a trend that’s about to make 2016 Alaska’s warmest year on record, surpassing the previous two warmest years: 2014 and 2015.

Rick Thoman crunches numbers based on data from satellites and land- and sea-based sensors to confirm what by now pretty much most everyone in Alaska has already noticed.

Western Alaska was especially warm last month, as reported in the National Weather Service's October report.
Credit National Weather Service

“Alaska of course has been persistently warm since the summer of 2013, and recent months have been no exception,” he said. “And we’re well on track for this to be the warmest calendar year on record for Alaska.”

Thoman says temperatures in just about all of Alaska were well above-normal last month, especially the parts of the state hard up against the Arctic Ocean and Bering Sea, where sensors registered extraordinarily warm sea-surface temperatures – and almost no sea-ice, anywhere near shore.

“Earlier this year, temperatures were far above normal across the state,” he said, “but since the summer, the warmth has been especially pronounced over northern and western Alaska.”

In his monthly climate report issued Thursday, Thoman said warm ocean waters and lack of sea ice were the main factors behind numerous record temperatures in those coastal areas over the past few months.

As Western Alaska set warm-weather records, Interior and Southeast Alaska recorded little or no precipitation.
Credit National Weather Service

“One of the most dramatic climate impacts of the decrease in autumn sea ice that’s occurred in the last 20 years is that meteoric increase in October temperatures on the North Slope,” he said.

Thoman says the most strikingly warm temperatures were recorded at Utqiagvik, formerly known as Barrow.

“Barrow, Alaska’s northernmost community, is really at the heart of that warming,” he said. “The median October temperatures increased by more than 10 degrees since the early 1980s.

October wasn’t quite as warm in the Interior and southeastern Alaska, but he says those areas were remarkably dry.

Rick Thoman, climate science and services manager, NOAA National Weather Service Alaska Region
Credit National Weather Service

“This was the driest October by far since 1925. And, amazingly, every single long-term climate site in the panhandle and the eastern Gulf coast were either the second- or first-driest October of record.”

Thoman says that’s why the state Division of Forestry had to reactivate firefighters and equipment last month to fight a couple of wildfires in the Mat-Su. And he says in the Interior, trick-or-treaters had the first snowless, “brown Halloween” in 50 years.

“In parts of the Interior, there was practically no precipitation at all – driest October in more than a century in Fairbanks.”

Thoman says if cold weather were to set in before we get decent snowfall, the lack of that ground insulation could lead to widespread septic systems and water line freeze-ups.