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Bethel sees its coldest day so far amid Alaska's freakishly warm winter

  • Author: Lisa Demer
  • Updated: May 31, 2016
  • Published January 20, 2015

BETHEL -- For much of Alaska, it's an unusually warm winter so far, the National Weather Service reports.

Last year, average temperatures for Alaska were the warmest on record. A different stretch of time, the winter period starting Nov. 1, is shaping up to be one of the warmest ever for Alaska, though it likely won't set new marks, said Rick Thoman, climate science and services manager for the Weather Service's Alaska region.

In Bethel, the temperature dipped to minus 7 Monday morning -- the coldest day this winter. While that may sound frigid to those Outside, it normally would be a lot colder, said Thoman, who is based in Fairbanks.

"At some point in the winter, it should have been a lot colder than 7 below in Bethel by the time you get to Jan. 19," he said.

Only in the warm winter of 1978-79 did Bethel have a warmer low temperature by this point -- minus 5 on Christmas Day 1978, according to the weather service.

Bethel's average temperature from Nov. 1 through Monday was 21.7 degrees, third-warmest on record, Thoman said.

The situation is the same up and down Alaska's western coast and into Southcentral and the Interior.

For Alaska's western coast, a below-normal ice level in the Bering Sea is having an impact, he said. Areas farther south that are normally ice-free are still recording warmer-than-normal water temperatures.

The North Slope, meanwhile, is experiencing near-normal cold temperatures, and Southeast is close to normal too, Thoman said. That means the state as a whole likely won't set high marks for warmth this winter, he said.

Some parts of the state may still set records, though.

Anchorage, for instance, is experiencing its warmest winter on record, with an average temperature of 28.6 degrees since Nov. 1, a full degree warmer than the second warmest in 1976-77. Temperatures in Alaska's biggest city still haven't hit zero. One reason is less sea ice in Cook Inlet to cool off nearby communities, Thoman said.

In Fairbanks, the 7.8 degree average temperature since Nov. 1 stands as the third warmest on record for this point in winter, he said.

In McGrath, the stretch since Nov. 1 is by far the warmest on record, with an average temperature just above 11 degrees, more than 2 1/2 degrees higher than the next-in-line winter of 1978-79, he said.

"For a two-and-a-half-month period, that's a lot," Thoman said.

Nome has averaged 20.7 degrees this winter, just a smidgeon cooler than in 1978-79, he said.

A bit of cold is moving in, according to the forecast. The Kuskokwim Delta may see lows Wednesday night between zero and minus 5.