Alaska's far north an outlier as January temperatures stay near historic average

January may have felt chilly to Alaskans who have become accustomed to successive mild winters, but it was actually a slightly warmer-than-normal month compared to the historic record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The statewide average temperature of 4.9 degrees Fahrenheit was 1.9 degrees higher than the 1925-2000 average and 0.5 degrees higher than the 1981-2010 average, NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Information said.

For the state as a whole, temperatures since October have veered between being very cold and very mild, creating a January average that was a bit higher than the long-term normal for that month, the National Weather Service's Alaska regional office reported.

That was not the case in the farthest north part of Alaska. There, temperatures in January continued to spike far above long-term averages, as they have since last fall.

The past month in Utqiagvik (formerly Barrow) tied for the second-warmest January in the community since records there began in 1921, NOAA reported. And the just-completed November-to-January period was by far the warmest on record for those three months in Utqiagvik/Barrow, with an average temperature of 4.3 degrees Fahrenheit — 11 degrees above normal — the National Weather Service said.

Warmer North Slope weather in fall and early winter is associated with low Arctic sea ice, and that pattern continued in January.

Average Arctic sea ice extent in the month just ended was the lowest for any January in the 38-year satellite record, the National Snow and Ice Data Center reported. Sea ice extent — the area where ice covers at least 15 percent of the water's surface — was 8.6 percent lower than the 1981-2010 average for January, the Colorado-based center reported.


January air temperatures were higher than normal throughout the Arctic, and in some spots — including the northern Chukchi Sea — very high compared to the long-term average. Temperatures above the Chukchi hit points as much as 4 degrees Celsius higher than the 1981-2010 average, and areas of the northern Barents Sea were even higher, the center said.

For Utqiagvik, the warm spell has continued into early February. Average daily temperatures for the first week of the month were well above normal by margins ranging from 18 to 27 degrees Fahrenheit, according to National Weather Service reports. Temperatures ranged between 18 and 32 degrees Fahrenheit above normal, with a record-tying daily high of 26 degrees posted last Thursday, according to the National Weather Service.

Yereth Rosen

Yereth Rosen was a reporter for Alaska Dispatch News.