Bethel records wettest July in more than 90 years

Two children walk through puddles on a muddy, empty street.
Children walk through puddles in Napakiak on Aug. 4, 2019 as rain drenched Western Alaska. (Andrew West)

Some people in Bethel have called this the dreariest, wettest summer of their lives. And they’re probably right.

Last month was the wettest July in Bethel in more than 90 years, with 4.22 inches of rainfall.

When it hasn’t been raining this summer, the sky has still often been gray. Bethel also experienced the cloudiest June and July in 60 years.

Many subsistence fishermen have called into salmon management meetings, reporting difficulty drying salmon in this year’s conditions.

The wet, cloudy weather has spanned most of Western and Northern Alaska. Kotzebue broke a record in July for the highest precipitation ever in a single month.

RELATEDJuly was the wettest month on record for Kotzebue

Most of the time, summer weather in Western Alaska is a mix of sunny and stormy, said Rick Thoman, an Alaska climate specialist with the International Arctic Research Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

“A storm comes through and then high pressure builds in, and it clears out and it gets nice. There’s been much less of that this summer than we might expect. Rather, we’ve been in this very stagnant pattern,” he said. “Sometimes the atmosphere gets into these patterns where the jet stream flow is relatively stable for long periods of time and doesn’t change much. Other times, it’s much more changeable. That one, probably, we just chalk up to random variability.”

But some scientists don’t believe stagnant weather patterns are completely random. 

Research suggests that these stalled weather systems with long-lasting periods of rain or heat are happening more often lately, and some scientists say that it’s due to climate change. They say that climate change is slowing down the jet stream, which keeps the same weather system in place for longer. But Thoman said the research is just emerging and climate scientists have not yet come to a consensus on the issue.

While rainfall in Bethel has neared record highs, Thoman said that temperatures this summer have been moderate, despite some locals’ perceptions that it’s a cold summer.

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“It’s been cool by recent standards, but by historical standards it’s not,” said Thoman. “It’s a very average summer, if you will.”

This summer’s temperatures have been a shift from the last six years, when the community recorded a string of above-average temperatures. Two years ago, Bethel had its second hottest summer on record.

According to the most recent Climate Prediction Center outlook, the weather around Bethel will stay wet and cool throughout August, said Thoman.

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