If you’ve been bemoaning what has felt like a cold and wet summer, you are not alone.
“Anywhere you go in this state, it’s like every single person is complaining,” said Cory Barrow, an Anchorage resident who was walking his Scottish terrier around University Lake on yet another rainy Wednesday afternoon.
2022 was the wettest year on record for Anchorage, and state climatologist Brian Brettschneider says there is little chance for that record to be broken this year. But the city could break the record for the number of days in a year with measurable precipitation. It is so far “way out (in) first place on that metric.”
In the 264 days between Jan. 1 and Sept. 21, Anchorage had 110 days with at least 0.01 inches of precipitation. The second-highest year was 1965, which had 100. It has been a soggy year so far.
To set the record for days with precipitation by the end of the calendar year, Anchorage would need more than 35 additional days with some amount of precipitation in the next 101 days. That would put 2023 above 1989, the current record holder with 145 days of precipitation.
But in Barrow the dog walker’s view, the weather overall has been “not too far from average.”
That is, in fact, the case, according to Brettschneider, whose record shows this was the 32nd warmest summer out of 72 summers of measurements in Anchorage — putting it in the upper half of the ranking.
With the fall equinox arriving in Alaska on Friday night, Anchorage residents may be looking back at what felt like a gloomy summer. Even though the average temperature does not in itself explain the gloom, Brettschneider there are several explanations for the feeling.
On that list: It was “probably the cloudiest summer on record for Southcentral Alaska” — meaning the region lost out on the solar energy it typically gets.
In 92 days of summer between June and August, Anchorage had some amount of rain during 48 days. Only 2010 had more summer days with measurable precipitation.
On top of that, the highest temperature recorded this summer was 73 degrees, well below the average high of 78. And Anchorage had only 10 days with temperatures at or above 70 degrees. On average, the city gets 18.
“And really in summer, people remember the high temperatures,” said Brettschneider.
The combination of clouds, a seemingly perpetual drizzle, and fewer warm days than typical can give the impression of less-than-ideal summer.
Even if this wasn’t a particularly cold summer in the entire history of the city, it stands out in a run of warm, sunny summers in the last decade. The last time Anchorage had a cooler summer than this one was in 2012. And that perspective is important, especially in a place with many newcomers.
“If you’ve lived in Anchorage a decade — it rained more often, it was the lowest high temperature, and there was more cloudiness than any other summer you’ve lived there. If you’ve lived in Anchorage 40 years — there’s been wetter summers,” said Rick Thoman, a climate specialist at University of Alaska Fairbanks.
While Southcentral Alaska did not see a top-warmth year, other areas of the state did. In parts of the North Slope, this was the warmest summer on record. Alaska-wide, the summer was the eighth-warmest on record.
“Southcentral and Southwestern Alaska was one of the few areas at high latitudes that had a cool summer,” said Thoman. Other parts of Alaska had a comparatively warm and dry summer.
Thoman said that those weather measurements are all tied to an unusually stable pattern of low pressure over the western Gulf of Alaska and high pressure over western Canada, which kept bringing weather fronts to Southcentral Alaska, while keeping Interior Alaska and Western Canada warm and dry.
And the results were notable: In many parts of Canada, heat and dryness combined to a disastrous wildfire season. In Alaska, the wildfire season, which was delayed thanks to a later-than-usual spring, ended up within the usual range of the past two decades.
“So we were really in a little bubble here locally. It’s pretty unrepresentative of larger areas,” said Brettschneider.
With summer in the rearview mirror, Anchorage residents shouldn’t be surprised to see rain in the forecast. September is typically the city’s wettest month.
Because it’s an El Nino year in the equatorial Pacific Ocean, “we really put our thumbs on the scale for warmer than normal temperatures” during the autumn, according to Thoman. And in some areas of Southcentral, El Nino years bring above normal precipitation in the fall. That could mean a higher freezing level — so rain could persist at lower elevations where we would otherwise expect snow, and there is a greater possibility of a low-snow autumn.
With shorter days ahead and snow creeping — however slowly — down the mountains, winter is on its way, and that could be a harder pill to swallow without much sunshine to look back on.
“I like to say that Alaskans will put up with a long, cold winter with relatively few complaints, but if you take away a few days of warm summer, they take it personally, and the complaints are unrelenting,” said Brettschneider. “Because it’s short and fleeting, every day counts. And the fact that it was cloudy and rainy so much of the summer was really dispiriting to a lot of people.”
Anchorage resident Jenna Wixon-Genack said in the midst of a drizzly stroll that the rainy summer “does change the perspective on winter a little bit. It just feels — summer is already short, and if it becomes shorter, I think that weighs on everyone a little bit, even if you enjoy winter. It feels like it comes earlier than maybe we’re ready for it.”
Despite this relatively cooler summer in Anchorage, Brettschneider said he’s betting on warmer summers going forward.
“Earth is warming, and the Arctic areas are warming more than anyplace else, and that includes us. So all things being equal, we should always plan on a summer being a top-10 warmest summer. That should really be our starting point,” said Brettschneider.
And Wixon-Genack, who moved to Anchorage two years ago from the Lower 48, said a rainy Anchorage is better than some of the alternatives, as the rest of the world saw a scorching, record-breaking summer.
“I would any day take this over extreme heat. This is clean, beautiful air. You can be outside. It’s actually a lot more livable and doable for activities than having it be too hot,” she said. “Especially looking forward, in the decades to come, a little more rain and cooling is not the worst kind of climate change to be contending with.”