Anchorage residents complained a lot about the weather this summer, and by some measures those complaints were justified.
Sure, it was cloudy and often raining. Was it cooler than usual, though? Not really.
National Weather Service climate researcher Brian Brettschneider says the average temperature in Anchorage over the summer was actually pretty close to normal. And he says other parts of the state saw their average temps land in the top five of all time.
Brettschneider, back for our Ask a Climatologist segment, says the perception has been that Anchorage was chilly this summer. But he says perception isn’t everything.
The following transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Brian Brettschneider: So if you live in most of Alaska, this was a very warm summer. If you’re in Fairbanks, this was the third warmest summer on record. If you’re in Juneau, this was the fourth warmest summer on record. If you’re on the North Slope, many areas, this was the single, top warmest summer on record. And so, statewide, it ended up being the eighth warmest summer. And the little bubble of relatively cooler air was was fairly limited in scope across the state. It just happens to be that’s where half or more of the population of the state lives. Now, what kind of differentiates this summer more than other summers? It was a very cloudy summer.
Casey Grove: Most of the complainers that the state has were complaining. So how cloudy was it?
BB: Well the clouds really do drive temperatures a lot. And it can be misleading. There were a number of days in the summer where someone would say, “Oh man, today was really cool.” And I would say, “Yeah, it was like 3 degrees above normal.” And they’re like, “No way.” So, well, it’s the clouds, you really lose that perspective. And so if you actually look at the map for the whole state and the whole summer, Southcentral Alaska, say from the Alaska Range southward, to include Anchorage, Kodiak, down to King Salmon, perhaps the cloudiest summer on record.
CG: Alright, Brian, I’m rustling this paper because we have a question here from a listener. It’s printed on paper for some reason. It’s from, we’ll call him Dave, because that’s his name. Dave wants to know, was this the worst summer ever?
BB: Well, if you like sun, I suppose you could characterize that. On the other hand, you know, if you’ve been suffering through a number of sunny summers, like we have the last 10 years, this summer was nirvana for you. So it depends on how you characterize what is good and what is not.
CG: We’re all trying to achieve nirvana, of course. So you said it might have been the cloudiest summer on record? Is that subjective? Or do we know that? Or do we not know that?
BB: Clouds are really, really tough to analyze. You know, if you have a really thin cloud deck that you can practically see through, you know, it gets noted as partly cloudy. Also some big rain showers that are kind of half off the horizon, that’s also partly cloudy. Or even a thin, complete overcast, where the sun, you can see your shadow, that counts as completely overcast. And we really rely on satellite imagery and some modeling to characterize it. So you know, it has slightly higher error bars than some of our other climate variables.
CG: So, obviously, not everybody has that kind of the traditional week, 9 to 5, Monday through Friday, off Saturday and Sunday. But I, personally, I feel like there’s some sort of vague conspiracy about what the weather’s gonna be like on the days that I have off, which are Saturday and Sunday. And I’m hoping that you can tell me that I’m correct that it was cloudier and colder on my days off, to justify my complaining about that.
BB: Well, I didn’t look at the temperatures, but I did look at rainfall for the summer months here in Southcentral and the rainiest days of the week, in terms of which dates did it rain most frequently on, so not necessarily a total amount, but how frequent was it. The three rainiest days of the week were Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. And the least rainiest day of the week was Saturday. So if you’re thinking, “Man, every weekend got spoiled,” you have some, perhaps, some selection bias.
CG: So the people that had Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday off…
BB: They’re the ones that should be complaining that they had bad luck this summer.
CG: Yeah. OK, well, touché. I mean, you mentioned the rain, we’ve talked about clouds, the temperature and, of course, sometimes there’s just clouds and sometimes the clouds produce rain. How rainy, how wet was it this summer?
BB: Well, here in Anchorage, we had a wet summer, for sure. I think it was a top 10 wet summer. What was a little bit more notable was the number of days with measurable precipitation. So for the June, July, August period, it was the second most number of days that actually had rain. So if it seemed like it rained a lot, you are correct. And actually for the year to date, so since Jan. 1, we’re sitting in 1st place for the most days through the end of August with measurable precipitation.
BB: And actually in much of the state it was a quite wet summer. So if you look at from Southcentral up and about the western two-thirds of the mainland, that was very wet. Some places, even record amounts of precipitation. In the Interior from Fairbanks eastward, so, say, up to Fort Yukon and then, say, down to Delta Junction and over to Northway, it was a quite dry summer. And we even saw some areas that got highlighted as areas of concern for drought over the summer. And then in Southeast Alaska, all of Southeast Alaska was drier than normal this summer.