Alaska’s weather among the warmest in over a century

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This winter’s warmer than normal weather could set an Alaska record. National Weather Service Alaska region climate science and services manager Rick Thoman  points to a lack of extreme cold temperatures across the state.

“When we look at the whole state, looking at all of the FAA airport stations, the weather service stations,” Thoman said. “The lowest temperature reported so far has been 47 below at Arctic Village and in the past century, Alaska has not had a winter wind, some place didn’t report a temperature of at least 53 below. And almost all winters, somebody gets to at least 55 below.”

Fairbanks lowest temperature so far this winter is 29 below, a December 2015 reading Thoman says just barely eclipses the low mark of another unusually warm Fairbanks winter.

“In 1976-77, the lowest temperature at the Fairbanks airport was 28 below,” said Thoman. “We’ve already been one degree lower than that so we won’t have the warmest winter minimum, but this would be, if it holds up, only the second winter in 110 years when it  didn’t get to 30 below.”

Thoman notes that the 1976- 77 winter was characterized by a shift in the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) toward warmer ocean temperatures. He says the recent year’s unusual Northeast Pacific warmth known as “the Blob” has transitioned to a similar condition.

“The blob has grown up into a PDO, and we’re left with still a blob-like looking feature in the northeast Pacific,” Thoman said. “That warm water that had characterized the blob is now extending to a significant depth and so that will take a long time for that to be mixed out and to cool back to normal.”

Thoman says a strong El Nino, which more prominently drove this winter’s weather, is waning, but also expected to continue to help keep temperatures above normal across Alaska through the remainder of the winter

Dan Bross is a reporter at KUAC in Fairbanks.

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