Alaska just had its warmest February -- and 2nd-warmest winter -- on record

This February was the warmest ever recorded in Alaska, and it capped a three-month winter period that was the second-warmest on record, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Thursday.

From December to February, temperatures across the state averaged 14.2 degrees -- 10.6 degrees higher than the long-term average, said the monthly report, issued by NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Information. In the 92 years since recordkeeping began, only one other December-to-February period was warmer. That was the winter of 2000-01, which saw a statewide average of 15 degrees.

This February was particularly warm statewide, with an average temperature of 17.2 degrees, compared to the 20th-century average of 4.8 degrees, according to the centers' database.

The record probably didn't come as a surprise to Alaska climate scientists, who last summer predicted a warmer-than-usual winter. Several short-term factors influenced this winter's unusually high temperatures. They include a powerful El Nino pattern and warmer water in the North Pacific linked to a shift in the climate pattern known as the Pacific decadal oscillation. Those factors come on top of long-term warming trends.

Alaska's record warmth comes at the same time the entire Arctic region is also experiencing record-setting warmth. February's sea ice extent set a record low for the satellite era. So did January's. And 2015, which ended with a storm that pushed temperatures at the North Pole to 50 degrees above average, saw Arctic temperatures spike across the region.

Several Alaska communities posted notable weather statistics, according to the report, which was national in scope. Barrow had the warmest December-to-February season in 101 years of records, and Anchorage and Juneau had their second-warmest December-to-February periods, the report said. And the pattern continued in several places across the state last month.

Barrow, with an average February temperature of minus 4.1 degrees, was 10.1 degrees warmer than the long-term average for the month, according to data from the National Weather Service in Alaska. King Salmon in February posted an average temperature of 34.8 degrees, a whopping 16.8 degrees warmer than the normal monthly average for that community. Anchorage's February average temperature of 29.9 degrees was 9.7 degrees above the long-term average for the month.


Much of Interior and Western Alaska also posted record-dry weather during the three months, NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Information reported.

For the Lower 48, the winter of 2015-16 has been the warmest on record, with the three-month average temperature reaching 36.8 degrees, 4.6 degrees above the 20th-century average, the report said. The previous record was 36.5 degrees, set in the winter of 1999-2000, the report said.

Yereth Rosen

Yereth Rosen was a reporter for Alaska Dispatch News.