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White, wet Christmas for Western Alaska during exceptionally cold, stormy winter

Welcome to Nome sign in winter time
Welcome to Nome sign in winter time. Photo by Brisa Alarcon, KNOM.

Nome and Western Alaska are on track to break a few climate records this winter. Following one of the top five coldest Novembers in climate history, the region is now facing its wettest December in decades.

This hasn’t happened in recent years but last month was exceptionally cold for much of the Bering Strait region, according to Rick Thoman, a climatologist with the Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy.

“For Nome we wound up as the fourth coldest November in Nome’s 114-year climate record. And we have to go back to 1956 to find a colder November in Nome,” Thoman said.

And for Southwest communities like Dillingham and King Salmon, those places had the coldest November on record locally, Thoman said.

But the now the weather pattern has completely changed for Western Alaska. By the end of this month, Nome could have the most precipitation it’s had during December since 1931, according to Thoman.

“And we just have one storm after another moving north through the Central Bering Sea, pulling lots of warm air up ahead of it,” Thoman explained. “Temperatures on multiple days so far this month have been into the 50s at Unalaska and that warm air streaming north and [bringing] a succession of winter storms,” Thoman said.

As of Dec. 22, Nome has already experienced a top ten wettest December in its climate record history.

That record amount of precipitation is in part due to the fact that this is a La Nina year. Thoman forecast earlier in the year that this winter would feature dramatic swings in temperatures and weather patterns for the region.

“And with this continuing stormy pattern, continuing south winds most of the time, and lots of wave action along the edge of the ice; we’re going to see continued ice loss and fracturing of ice farther north,” Thoman explained.

In spite of last week’s stormy mix of freezing rain and ice accumulation, Western Alaska isn’t out of the woods yet. There is another winter storm on its way to Nome and the surrounding area, Thoman said.

“So there is very likely to be some precipitation across the region on Christmas Day. The form of that precipitation will be in doubt. Most places will have snow most of the time, but certainly cannot rule out a period of rain during Christmas Day,” Thoman said.

So if you’re spending the holidays in Western Alaska, you may not only need your winter coat but also your rain boots. The National Weather Service is calling for a, “major winter storm” to hit the Bering Strait and Western Interior starting on Saturday.

Image at top: The “Welcome to Nome” sign in winter time. Photo by Brisa Alarcon, KNOM (2021).

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