Warm ocean water leads to heavy rain in Alaska

It’s been unusually wet across a large section of the state this summer.

(Graphic courtesy of Brian Brettschneider)
(Graphic courtesy of Brian Brettschneider)

Brian Brettschneider is a climatologist in Anchorage who closely tracks Alaska climate data and trends. Alaska’s Energy Desk is checking in with him regularly as part of a new segment- Ask a Climatologist.

Brettschneider told Energy Desk editor Annie Feidt that some parts of the state, especially near Fairbanks, have had double their normal rainfall since June. That has been good for tamping down wildfires, but it has its own ties to a warmer world.

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Annie: Why has it been so wet?

Brian: Well, there’s been a couple of reasons. First and foremost, the ocean temperatures around Alaska have been quite warm, near record warm, and those warm waters provide a nearly endless supply of moisture, much more moisture than is typical for the summer. So when we’ve been having rain showers, all that additional moisture is fuel for these storms and it turns a light to moderate storm into a moderate to heavy rain event.

Annie: At least in Southcentral Alaska, in Anchorage, we haven’t thought of this as a rainy summer. What accounts for that?

Brian: Sometimes the perception can be a little bit different than the reality. So here in Anchorage we had a big rain event in June, over an inch in one day. But even if you back that out, it’s been an above normal rainfall summer. So it’s not just the last few days, it’s not just that one storm, there have been a number of events that have contributed rain and those all add up.

Annie: What about Southeast Alaska, are they in the same boat?

Brian: The switch has been flipped a little bit from the first half of the year. The southern Alaska coast and Southeast were quite wet from January though May. But this summer so far, they’re all below normal for precipitation.

Annie Feidt is the Managing Editor for Alaska's Energy Desk, a collaboration between Alaska Public Media in Anchorage, KTOO Public Media in Juneau and KUCB in Unalaska. Her reporting has taken her searching for polar bears on the Chukchi Sea ice, out to remote checkpoints on the Iditarod Trail, and up on the Eklutna Glacier with scientists studying its retreat. Her stories have been heard nationally on NPR and Marketplace.
Annie’s career in radio journalism began in 1998 at Minnesota Public Radio, where she produced the regional edition of All Things Considered. She moved to Anchorage in 2004 with her husband, intending to stay in the 49th state just a few years. She has no plans to leave anytime soon.
afeidt (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  |  907.550.8443 | About Annie

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