Barrow experiences earliest snowmelt on record

Snow in the northern most town in the nation is melting earlier than ever
before on record. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s
Observatory in Barrow reported a snowmelt starting on May 13. That’s 10 days
earlier than the previous record set in 2002. NOAA has been recording
snowmelt from its Barrow Observatory for over 70 years.

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NOAA’s Barrow Observatory recorded the earliest snowmelt (Photo courtesy of NOAA)
NOAA’s Barrow Observatory recorded the earliest snowmelt (Photo courtesy of NOAA)

The record melt follows a winter of record-setting temperatures. Alaska was
more than 11 degrees warmer that normal this winter. And this winter didn’t
just see an early melt on land. According to the National Snow and Ice Data
Center, 2016 also saw the lowest winter sea ice extent in satellite
history.

This winter didn’t just see an early melt on land. According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, 2016 also saw the lowest winter sea ice extent in satellite history.

David Douglas, a research biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, said in a NOAA press release that conditions in the Arctic are looking more like they would in late June or early July right now.

An intensely warm winter and spring are melting climate records across Alaska. The January-April 2016 period was an incredible 11 degrees above normal, setting the stage for a potentially unprecedented summer. (Graphic courtesy of NOAA)
An intensely warm winter and spring are melting climate records across Alaska. The January-April 2016 period was an incredible 11 degrees above normal, setting the stage for a potentially unprecedented summer. (Graphic courtesy of NOAA)

The early thaw is already taking a toll on wildlife in the far north.

“Polar bears are having to make their decisions about how to move and where to go on thinner ice pack that’s mostly first-year ice,” Douglas said. Douglas also expects walrus to struggle this summer with the thinner sea ice and warmer temperatures.

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Emily Russell, Alaska Public Media - Anchorage
Emily Russell is the voice of Alaska morning news as Alaska Public Media’s Morning News Host and Producer. Originally from the Adirondacks in upstate New York, Emily moved to Alaska in 2012. She skied her way through three winters in Fairbanks, earning her Master’s degree in Northern Studies from UAF. Emily’s career in radio started in Nome in 2015, reporting for KNOM on everything from subsistence whale harvests to housing shortages in Native villages. She then worked for KCAW in Sitka, finally seeing what all the fuss with Southeast, Alaska was all about. Back on the road system, Emily is looking forward to driving her Subaru around the region to hike, hunt, fish and pick as many berries as possible. When she’s not talking into the mic in the morning, Emily can be found reporting from the peaks above Anchorage to the rivers around Southcentral.