South Central Alaskan Winter…Where Is It?

As the lower 48 endures some of its coldest and iciest winter weather this season Alaska has been mired in some of its mildest weather since our first snow back on November 10th.  While my experience regarding Alaskan winters is virtually zero I can and do read historical data from the past 25 years and the locals are always ready to talk about the weather so I do have some perspective.  The consensus from folks who’ve lived in this area for decades is this has been the warmest and wettest fall in memory; I can add that this fits with the broad weather trends in Alaska for all of 2013.  After all, a myriad of high temp records were set in middle June including a number of all time record high temps such as Talkeetna’s official 96 F (there was an unofficial reading of 98 F on that same Monday – June 17, 2013)!  I’ve already written about the record-setting warmth and especially the copious quantities of rain in September and October which exceeded the average monthly amounts by 202% and 291% respectively.  Yes, we did see a run of perhaps a week around Thanksgiving when the temps were considerably below normal and even dropped into the minus twenty degree range but even with these extremely cold temps I don’t believe November’s average temperature was below the ‘normal’.  Nine days into December our mean temp at Mile 7.1 of the Spur has been 17.7 F; compare this to the normal temp range for early December of 26 F to 10 F.

Talkeetna’s annual ‘Motorized Parade of Lights’ took place last Friday evening (12/06/13) in rain showers even though the surface temps were right at the freezing mark; the big weekend activities like the annual ‘Wilderness Woman Competition’ and the annual ‘Bachelor Auction’ were completed in fog, freezing rain and drizzle.  A local I spoke with on Sunday told me he’s lived here for 27 years and he’s never seen these events happen in anything but snow and cold.  From reading the evening news on Thursdays and Fridays I know numerous events have been cancelled because of the freezing rain and such weather conditions used to be extremely rare in this area.  In fact as I came to know more of my neighbors and would ask their advice for the upcoming winter to a person they warned me that once it starts to get cold winter will come on like a speeding freight train and I shouldn’t expect to see above freezing temps again until April or May.  Contrast this to my recent data showing a mean 24 hour temp of 31.7 F on 12/06, 32.3 F on 12/07 and 32.2 F on 12/08.  Without question this has been a very mild late fall to this point and without question this unusual weather is continuing the trend of warmth and wetness experienced through much of south central Alaska across the summer and fall months of 2013.

I suppose one could make a claim this is further evidence of climate change in terms of global warming; I do have enough of a scientific background to know one warm year does nothing other than go into the stores of data as a single point demonstrating just that…a warmer than normal year.  But I have been visiting Alaska in the late summer to early fall since 1996 and in that time I’ve seen a definite shift towards warmer temps holding on longer into periods which traditionally were a bit cooler.  Given what I’ve experienced and what I’ve read I do not doubt our climate is warming to some extent; I do have issues with the contention it’s all the fault of human beings.  We know little about past climactic shifts except to say they were real, some were devastating, some pushed temperatures up while others depressed them and its a virtual given we will experience such shifts again.  While I certainly wouldn’t disagree humankind has had a definite effect on the world’s climate I’m not ready to state just how much of the apparent warming is due to humanity verses natural geologic or astrophysical routines.  And as warm as its been since I relocated here in early August of 2013 I’m sure as heck not going to predict this will be a ‘warm’ winter; not with the remainder of December, January and February yet to come!

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