According to the calendar, it’s summer in Alaska, but you wouldn’t know it from the weather. Anchorage and many other cities across the state are experiencing cloudy skies and cooler-than-normal temperatures. While that’s lowered the risk of wildfires across the state, it has also left many wondering if and when sunnier weather will arrive.
Brian Brettschneider with the National Weather Service joined Alaska Public Media’s Wesley Early for our Ask a Climatologist segment, and says this summer isn’t as much of an outlier as some may think.
The following transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Brian Brettschneider: As far as below normal temperatures, it’s really kind of a bullseye over Anchorage. There’s a wide swath of the state that’s a little bit cooler than normal. For Anchorage, so far through about June 27 or 28, it’s the coolest summer since 2008. But if you look at, say, Fairbanks or Juneau or Bethel in many cases, it’s the coolest summer in only two or three years. I think for Bethel, it’s about the coolest since 2014. So the perspective of where you’re actually located matters. But we are definitely a little bit below normal at most locations.
Wesley Early: You mentioned this is Anchorage’s coolest summer since about 2008. Was there anything special going on that year that led to that?
BB: I still hear about 2008. People talk about the terrible summer of 2008. So this summer has some similarities to that in terms of the overall atmospheric pattern, but really every one has its own kind of unique story to tell. And this year, the story is low pressure in the Bering Sea and Western Alaska. And that drags down cooler air from farther north. And on the east side of that, the flow is southerly, so it brings in air from the open ocean, which is cooler because it’s over cooler water. And it has a lot of moisture with it. You know, by historical perspectives, it’s a little bit cooler than normal. But there have been many, many cooler summers. I think we do have a case of recency bias, where the last summers since about 2013 have been much warmer than they were historically. And so we’ve kind of acclimated ourselves to that. So this is really more like a summer of years gone by.
WE: I was reading about how there’s a lower risk for wildfires across much of the Interior and Southcentral. Do you think that that’s going to continue as the summer goes on, or should we still anticipate an average wildfire season?
BB: Well, through today’s date, I believe only about 1,300 acres have burned statewide, which is easily in last place for the fewest number of acres burned, which of course is great. No fires, no smoke. That’s something we haven’t had to deal with this year. Of course, our neighbors in Canada are having a record fire season. And you can imagine if the upper level atmospheric pattern had shifted just 200-300 miles to the west, that would have been us this year. So sometimes small differences can have a big impact on our sensible weather and conditions.
WE: So in Southcentral, the weather generally deteriorates as the summer goes on. You know, we’re past the solstice. Should we expect this sort of lackluster summer such as it is to continue?
BB: So I heard “deteriorate” and “lackluster” in the same sentence. So we’re actually getting to the point where we’re reaching our seasonal peak in Anchorage. That occurs about the second week of July or even the third week of July. That’s when — if you look at say what’s the normal high temperature — that’s where it maxes out, we actually haven’t gotten there yet. That happens earlier in the Interior. So Fairbanks, on average, they peak in their temperatures right around the Fourth of July. And, you know, as far as when the rainy season typically sets in, there’s a lot of variability. Last year, it set in about the 7th or 8th of July, and it was here for good. This year, it’s hard to say. We really haven’t had a dry season, like we typically do. So it’s really hard to pin down how that’s going to play out. But we look forward into our monthly and seasonal forecasts. The new forecast that’s going to come out later this week for the month of July is going to show Southcentral in below-normal temperatures for the month of July and maybe some above normal for the North Slope and a pretty consistent trend toward wetter than normal conditions across most of the state. So if that plays out, that would be good for the wildfire situation and maybe cause some grumbling among Alaskans who are looking for warmer weather.