Ask a Climatologist: Bitter cold makes a comeback in Alaska

11302016_cold_courtesyAlaska has settled into a notable stretch of seriously cold weather. Communities around the state are enduring low temperatures they haven’t seen in a few years. And for more than a week, the average statewide temperature index has registered below normal- by far the longest stretch this year.

Brian Brettschneider is a climatologist in Anchorage who closely tracks Alaska climate data and trends. Alaska’s Energy Desk is checking in with him regularly as part of the segment, Ask a Climatologist.

He spoke with Energy Desk editor Annie Feidt.

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Interview transcript:

Brian: For example in Fairbanks, they reached minus 31 on Tuesday morning and that’s the first time they’ve been below -30 in two winters. In a typical winter, that happens about 20 times a year.

Annie: What’s causing this?

Brian: With the lack of sun — solar energy in the winter — if you can keep the warmth from the ocean away, cold air tends to build up in the high latitude areas. And those cold air masses, they move with the upper air flow, the jet stream and right now we’re in a pattern where the flow is bringing some of the cold air that’s been slowly building up over the last few weeks, it’s dragging that into Alaska and so we’re all experiencing those below normal temperatures.

Annie: So for the entire state we have the first below normal stretch…

Brian: Right, so basically in the last 10 or 12 days, we’ve been below normal most of that time, which has been the first stretch of below normal days we’ve had in 2016. We’ve even had a significantly below normal day, the first one of 2016.

Annie: And you put this out on social media. What was the reaction you got?

Brian: Well, the reaction from some people is global warming, climate change, it’s over now, since temperatures have become more Alaska-like. But I want to caution people, even the warmest year on record for Alaska, 2014, we still had about 60 significantly below normal days. We’ve now had one. And we’ll probably add to that here in the next two weeks, but even still 2016 is an almost 100 percent lock to be the warmest year on record in Alaska.

Annie: Even if we spend the rest of the year below normal?

Brian: We’d have to have the coldest December of the last 40 years to not have the warmest year on record, so it’s pretty much a done deal.

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Annie Feidt is the Managing Editor for Alaska's Energy Desk, a collaboration between Alaska Public Media in Anchorage, KTOO Public Media in Juneau and KUCB in Unalaska. Her reporting has taken her searching for polar bears on the Chukchi Sea ice, out to remote checkpoints on the Iditarod Trail, and up on the Eklutna Glacier with scientists studying its retreat. Her stories have been heard nationally on NPR and Marketplace. Annie’s career in radio journalism began in 1998 at Minnesota Public Radio, where she produced the regional edition of All Things Considered. She moved to Anchorage in 2004 with her husband, intending to stay in the 49th state just a few years. She has no plans to leave anytime soon. afeidt (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  |  907.550.8443 | About Annie