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From Utqiaġvik to Juneau, 2016 was warmest year on record in much of Alaska

From Metlakatla to Utqiaġvik, 2016 was the warmest year on record in much of Alaska, according to preliminary data released Sunday by the National Weather Service.

(National Weather Service)

What's especially striking about the year is how widespread the warmth was, said Rick Thoman, the climate science and services manager for NWS in Alaska.

"It's literally from southern Southeast Alaska to the northernmost point in the state," he said. "You have to look to find places that did not have their warmest year."

Locations in every corner of the state broke records that date back to the 1940s or before: Utqiaġvik (Barrow), Kotzebue, Dutch Harbor, Nome, McGrath, Bethel, St. Paul, King Salmon, Anchorage, Kodiak, Northway, Bettles, Yakutat, Juneau and Annette Island were among the communities recording their warmest year ever.

Some places not only broke previous records but smashed them by what are considered big margins in the world of climate science. Utqiaġvik was 2 degrees warmer on average in 2016 than it was in 1998 — the previous warmest year.

In Nome, 2016 was the first calendar year in which the average temperature has been above freezing, at 32.5 degrees, Thoman said.

(National Weather Service)

Thoman said the widespread warmth was the result of "multiple factors all pointing in the same direction": a strong El Nino last winter, persistently warm ocean surface temperatures near Alaska and very low sea ice coverage.

"Parts of the Eastern Bering Sea and North Pacific Ocean saw the warmest ocean surface temperatures (in those locations) on record during the spring and summer," he said.

Some of those factors are different this winter. This year the El Nino system has been replaced by La Nina, which tends not to bring persistently warm weather. But the sea ice remains "very low" and ocean surface temperatures are still warmer than normal, especially in the Bering Sea, Thoman said.

A series of storms pumping warm air north of the Bering Strait meant every community on Alaska's usually-frigid North Slope was above freezing on the first day of 2017.

On Sunday, Utqiaġvik reached 36 degrees — tying an all-time January record.

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