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Don't let the recent snowy weather fool you -- Alaska is having a really warm year

  • Author: Suzanna Caldwell
  • Updated: December 2, 2017
  • Published December 30, 2016

It might feel cold and look snowy in Southcentral Alaska, but the big picture statewide shows a different story this year.

According to data from the National Weather Service's regional office, over 20 communities across Alaska recorded a significant increase in the number of days when temperatures were warmer than average in 2016.

For most, it was a significant increase. In Utqiagvik (formerly Barrow) 81 percent of all days were above normal last year; in Fairbanks, 71 percent. King Salmon saw 84 percent of days above normal. Dutch Harbor and Cold Bay saw an 87 percent increase in the amount of warm days. St. Paul, located on an island of the same name in the Bering Sea, was 91 percent above average.

In Anchorage, 83 percent of all days in 2016 were above normal temperatures. Despite what feels like lingering cold temperatures and snow in the region, the months of both November and December will be still be slightly warmer than average according to climatologist Brian Brettschneider.

And while it might seem like winter weather in Southcentral and the Interior, which have been grappling with significant snowfall the last few days, that's unlikely to make much of an impact on the 2016 temp averages.

"Last winter was incredibly warm across the state," said Jason Ahsenmacher, meteorologist and forecaster with the weather agency in Anchorage. "Those anomalies are still pushing our average well above for the last year."

Cooler temperatures in Southcentral have managed to keep snow on the ground, but snowfall overall is still well below average for this time of year. A total of 20.2 inches had been measured at the Sand Lake NWS office as of Friday according to Ahsenmacher.

Based on agency data, the historic average snowfall for the same period is 37.6 inches.

Ahsenmacher said last year 22.2 inches had been recorded by the same date, but warm weather caused a repetitive melting cycle that left hardly any snow on the ground.

Brettschneider, an Anchorage-based climatologist with the International Arctic Research Center and Western Region Climate Center, said a variety of factors played into Alaska's warm year.

Temperatures are above average globally, he said. Low sea ice and warm ocean temperatures also played factors in the state's overall temperatures staying consistently warm.

"Everything conspired to make things warm in Alaska in the last couple years," he said in a phone interview Friday.

Early season forecasts showed Alaska would have a warm winter overall. Brettschneider said a mild La Nina weather pattern is causing cool temperatures in Alaska, but given the warm year, it's only pushing temperatures closer to a "normal" winter weather pattern, he said.

He said the forecast shows the La Nina event is set to fade away in the coming months and decrease the likelihood of cooler than normal temperatures, possibly pushing the state back into warmer temperatures.

But Brettschneider said sometimes Alaska doesn't follow the typical El Nino and La Nina patterns. There's always the caveat that anything could happen.

"It's a matter or probability," he said. "And probabilities, by their nature, don't always work out."

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