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March 2019 Brought Record Warmth to Alaska

Sunset over a snowy shoreline with small icebergs dotting the ocean, stretching to the horizon
Along the Bering Sea coastline of Nome, Alaska, on March 15, 2019. Photo: David Dodman, used with permission.

Climatologists say the month of March 2019 featured abnormal weather and above-normal temperatures for Alaska.

According to Martin Stuefer with the Alaska Climate Research Center at the University of Alaska–Fairbanks Geophysical Institute, record high monthly temperatures were set at ten of the 19 weather stations across the state. One of those stations was in Nome.

“Almost everywhere north of the Alaska Range, north of Bristol Bay, had the warmest March of record. In Nome, a hundred and ten years of climate data, and we’ve never had a March as warm as we had this past March. Almost 14 degrees warmer than normal.”

That’s Rick Thoman, a climate specialist with the Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy at the University of Alaska–Fairbanks. According to Thoman, the normal average temperature in Nome during March is 10.3 degrees, while this past month’s average was 23.8.

Kotzebue had the highest recorded deviation for March, according to Stuefer, with the average temperature being 21.9 degrees above normal.

Warmer conditions this spring, Thoman says, will have more impacts later on this year.

“Open water in the southern Chukchi Sea off of the Shishmaref coast, even in the southern Kotzebue Sound, open water this week guarantees the southern Chukchi Sea is going to be warm again this summer, which means that, going into the fall, we’re going to have all that extra heat compared to the long term normal that is going to have to be removed before we can get ice to form again.”

As Thoman puts it, this phenomenon is referred to as a positive feedback loop, in which new weather extremes continue to reinforce themselves.

One of those possible side effects for Nome and other communities who have large quantities of snow left on the ground, Thoman says, is flooding.

“From White Mountain westward where there’s very copious snowpack, if we would wind up with a weather pattern that has sustained above-freezing temperatures, especially way above freezing while there’s still a lot of snow, we could very quickly run into problems with high water on rivers. The Seward Peninsula isn’t known for ice jam flooding, but we can get small ice jams.”

According to Thoman, the rest of spring is most likely going to stay warmer than normal in Western Alaska, though not quite as high as 13 degrees above normal temperatures.

Image at top: Along the Bering Sea coastline of Nome on March 15, 2019. Photo: David Dodman, used with permission.

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