Part III: “We didn’t have a lot of money, but we had a lot of food.”
This is the third part of the After the Ice series. The video is less than 6 minutes long. Part III delves a bit into the Arctic Report Card, which is an annual assessment, and how our local Arctic population is finally getting a seat at the climate table.
This summer, Fairbanks has seen its 7th wettest since 1925. With 12.6″ of rain recorded as of last Friday, climatologists tell us that we are on a new trend. The typical summer rainfall is now 30% higher than in the 1920’s-1930’s. Juneau also saw its 6th wettest summer in 96 years. That’s saying something about our very wet capital city.
Fairbanks also had 19 days with thunder, which tied a record. We were 3.6 degrees warmer than average, which puts 2020 in the Top Ten, since recording began. Much of the change came in the rise of nightly low temperatures, due to the rain and cloud cover.
Officially, Fairbanks had a growing season of 130 days in 2020. That ties us for the 7th longest. Since 1950, the growing season in Fairbanks has increased by 16 days.
Wildfires burned a total of 181,000 acres in Alaska for the season so far. That is the lowest total since 2002. For one season, at least, wildfire crews did not have to worry about hotshotting into the Alaskan Bush. They have more than enough on their plate, as it is, in 2020.
Rolling hills of NE Wyoming, after the thunderstorm
Recently, I found myself in the Lower 48, with a car and no where to park it. The smart move was to sell the car in Minnesota, but the lure, and frankly, the need for a road trip was too strong to resist.
The rumor was that Canada would allow Alaskans to cross the border to return back home to Alaska. There were also several reports, that the final judgement was up to the individual border patrol agent at the port of entry. I decided to roll the dice, pack up the little 300zx, and drive the car back to Alaska.
This would be the twelfth time I have driven the AlCan, or the Alaska Highway, as it is more commonly known. I knew it would be a different sort of trip, but I didn’t know what to expect in these anxious times, so it was hard to predict how different it would be.
I drove I-90 across South Dakota. I have not driven the interstate for ages, as I try to avoid them, when I can. This trip, it seemed like the smart move. The interstate made it a lot easier to avoid people, plus I wasn’t sure if the small towns in South Dakota, Wyoming and Montana would care to see a car zip through with Alaska plates.
Day one’s goal was to get to the Black Hills National Forest, just past Rapid City and into Wyoming. The weather was hot & sticky, and the air conditioner in the car had recently stopped blowing cold air. An attempt was made to fix that, but with working windows and a T-Top, I wasn’t overly put out by the heat. The 90 degree weather did force me to take the top off before I made it out of Minnesota.
Aladdin General Store
I veered off I-90 and took SoDak Hwy 34 near Spearfish. The hot & humid weather had been building dark storm clouds on my horizon for a while, so I stopped to put the tops back on the roof of the car. Immediately after, the wind picked up, the sky darkened even more, and the sound of hail hit the recently replaced glass tops. The cell phone gave me an automated message that I had never seen before: Tornado Warning in your vicinity until 7pm. Then the rain came down in absolute torrents. I was impressed, but I pressed on. There was no place to stop anyway. I followed a truck’s set of taillights as best I could, and continued on.
I eventually drove through the storm, and it was beautiful weather on the west side of the Black Hills. I stopped briefly in the community of Aladdin, Wyoming: Population 15, Cell Coverage: zero, wonderful country: as far as the eye could see.
Not long after Aladdin was the campground I was looking for in the national forest. Within minutes, I had started some charcoal, and was setting up camp among the tall pines of the Black Hills.
Alaska saw its first 80F degree day on Saturday, as Ketchikan hit the mark. Juneau hit 76F degrees, which was a record high for the date, and Fairbanks saw 70F degrees for the first time on Saturday.
The warm air mass brought 80F degrees into Alaska’s Interior on Sunday, which made for the years’s first 80 degree day for Fairbanks. This is four weeks earlier than the average first 80 degree day. It is the second earliest on record.
Sitka and Yakutat also saw high temps on Mother’s Day.
90F degrees is not in the forecast for Monday.
Utqiagvik Sea Ice Cam
The sun rose over the village of Utqiagvik at 2:46 am ADT on Sunday, it will set in 85 days. The village also set a record high temp of 36F.
I flew out to King Salmon on PenAir, also known as Peninsula Airways. I’ve always liked PenAir and their Saab 2000’s, although the airline is now under the Ravn banner. The twin engine turboprop usually offers a smooth ride out to some of Alaska’s more remote locations.
The Alaska Airlines & PenAir terminal at King Salmon, Alaska
We landed in King Salmon, and drove over to Naknek. This is fishing country, both commercial & sport. Salmon is king here. Anti Pebble Mine signs were everywhere. No surprise that the fishing communities did not want to see the world’s largest open pit mine at the headwaters of Bristol Bay.
We located our accommodations for our stay, only to find out that there was no heat in the building. Only in Alaska would the proprietor think that heat was an option. After scouring Naknek, we ended up back in King Salmon for our room & board.
Inside the Saab2000
Sitting in the emergency row on the Saab2000 does not really offer much of an advantage. It definitely cuts down on the view.
Across the state, Alaskan cities and villages saw their warmest year ever recorded. Utqiagvik, Kotzebue, Fairbanks, Anchorage, Bethel, Kodiak and Cold Bay, all saw record warmth in 2019 as a whole. For the first time since recording began, Fairbanks had an average temperature above freezing.
Juneau had a record number of days of 70F or higher, which was enough to give the capital city their third warmest year.
Across the state we set 326 new record highs, as opposed to just 12 record lows.
Graph credit: NOAA, ACCAP, @AlaskaWx
Statewide, Alaska had 87% of its days above normal, with only 13% of days with below normal temps. Normal is based on 1981-2010 averages.
The tail end of December did see a dip in temps, at least in the Interior and northern regions. Sea ice has finally started to extend, although the amount is still lower than what we had at this point in 2019.
The temperature at the Anchorage International Airport fell to -10F on Sunday morning. That is the first time Anchorage has seen minus ten in 3 years.
Last Friday morning the temp at the cabin was -30F. On Tuesday morning the temp was +25F. So as many in the Lower 48 experience cooler temps, we in Interior Alaska are back in sweatshirts. In fact, I even saw someone breaking out the shorts on Tuesday.
I haven’t gone that far yet, but I do have at least one open window.
It isn’t a figment of Alaskans’ imagination: Alaska’s winters are indeed warmer. Winter months (December through February) have seen a substantial rise in average temperatures over the past fifty years. The northern part of the state has seen the largest increase, with a 9.0 to 9.2F degree rise, but the entire state is under a warming trend.
Nome Sea Ice:
Data credit: UAF, ACCAP, NOAA, @AlaskaWx
Sea ice off the coast of Nome, Alaska is nonexistent in December, defying the historical record. Everything but recent history, that is. The drop off the statistical edge that the graph shows is pretty eye-opening.
The Port of Nome was open and operating at the end of November, which is the latest that has happened on record.