Sea ice begins to recede as Northwest Alaska cold snap dies down

Wintertime shore ice near the village of Shaktoolik. (Laura Kraegel, KNOM)

While Southcentral and Southeast Alaska continue to have colder than normal temperatures this week, the holiday season cold snap that hit Western and Northwestern Alaska has faded away, bringing a more normal forecast for the region. 

During last year’s winter, sea ice saw dismal growth due to higher-than-normal temperatures across the Arctic. Rick Thoman is a climatologist with the International Arctic Research Center in Fairbanks. He says that the cold snap helped the sea ice form in the Chukchi and Bering Seas, but the recent shift is slowing it down. 

Watch the Ice: Read our continuing coverage of people, climate and changing ice in Alaska

“We’ve actually seen the sea ice extent in the Bering Sea is actually decreased with these storm systems that have moved through and brought southeast and southwest winds,” Thoman said. “That’s not terribly unusual at this time of the year.”

Thoman says that this is a similar weather pattern to what happened last January, where the first half of the month was colder than usual in the Northwest Arctic. By mid-January, however, things heated up. 

“Most days in Kotzebue had highs in the teens and 20s, and even towards the end of the month, a couple days got above freezing,” Thoman said. “We don’t see anything like that in the immediate future.”

Thoman says that the forecast doesn’t call for drastically warmer temperatures like that for this January, but he says the temperatures are pretty variable this time of year across the state. 

“We probably won’t see a repeat of 2019,” Thoman said. “But just because it’s cold now doesn’t mean it can’t get significantly warmer than normal. And when that happens, of course, in Alaska those transitions are often fairly quick, so stay tuned.”

The holiday season cold snap that hit Alaska last month wasn’t enough to stop 2019 from being the warmest year on record in the state.