2016 Annual Statewide Summary

The Climate of Alaska for 2016

 

Gerd Wendler, Blake Moore and Kevin Galloway

Alaska Climate Research Center, Geophysical Institute, UAF

 

This review of the climate of Alaska is predominantly based on the 19 First Order climatological stations in Alaska, which are operated by NOAAÕs National Weather Service. Furthermore, the normals used in this analysis are based on the means of the 30-year time period from 1981-2010 and were calculated by NOAAÕs National Climate Data Center (NCDC). A convenient source for the NCDC normals of all stations for Alaska can be obtained at: http://akclimate.org/Climate/Normals

 

Temperature

 

The temperature of Alaska for 2016 was a year for the record books. Based on the 19 First Order stations, and the time period since 1949, the five highest temperatures were observed in the following years:

 

Table A: Five highest mean annual temperatures for the First Order stations in Alaska since 1949.

 

Station

Mean Annual Temperature (°F)

2016

37.2°F

2014

35.7°F

2015

35.3°F

1993

35.0°F

1981

34.8°F

 

The temperature of 2016 was the warmest by a large margin, 1.5°F warmer than the previous record holder (2014). While 1.5°F is not a large deviation for a single station on a monthly basis, it is a very large value for an area as large as Alaska and for a whole year. This can be also deduced from the previous four maxima, which lie all within 1°F of each other. Furthermore, the three last consecutive years have been the warmest, most likely caused by the strong El Nino and global warming. In Figure 1 the temperature deviations from the normal are presented.

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 1: Isoplete presentation of the temperatures deviations from the normal (1981-2010) for 2016 based on the 19 First Order Alaskan meteorological stations.

 

Northern Alaska reported the highest deviation from normal with Barrow leading the way with an amazing annual deviation of 7.1°F. In general the figure shows that northwestern Alaska showed the highest deviation, while the deviation decreased substantially in the southeastern part. For the First Order stations, the temperature deviation from the annual normal was 4.6°F. All actual values are presented in Table B. 

 

Table B: Mean temperature for 2016, normal temperature (1981-2010) and deviations from the mean for the 19 First Order meteorological stations in Alaska.

 

Station

Temperature

Observed
(°F)

Normal
(°F)

Delta
(°F)

Anchorage

41.4

37.1

4.3

Annette

49.3

46.6

2.7

Barrow

18.9

11.8

7.1

Bethel

36.7

30.7

6.0

Bettles

27.7

23.5

4.2

Cold Bay

42.5

38.8

3.7

Delta Junction

34.2

29.0

5.2

Fairbanks

31.6

27.7

3.9

Gulkana

30.9

28.2

2.7

Homer

43.4

38.7

4.7

Juneau

44.8

42.1

2.7

King Salmon

41.7

35.2

6.5

Kodiak

44.9

40.9

4.0

Kotzebue

29.7

22.9

6.8

McGrath

32.0

27.4

4.6

Nome

32.5

27.4

5.1

St. Paul Island

40.3

35.4

4.9

Talkeetna

40.0

36.0

4.0

Yakutat

44.0

40.3

3.7

Mean

37.2

32.6

4.6

 

Looking at the annual course of the deviation by month (Figure 2), a strong decrease over the year can be observed. This might be explained by the weakening of the El Nino through 2017, which caused also the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) to become less positive. The PDO is related to the surface temperature of the Pacific Ocean between 20° and 60° North, and has a strong influence on the climate of Alaska (Mantua et al. 1997, Hartmann and Wendler 2005). While the mean temperature deviation in January exceeded normal by 10°F, by December hardly any deviation could be observed. Hence, it is not expected that 2017 will be as warm as 2016.

 

Figure 2: Mean monthly temperature deviation for the 19 First Order stations in Alaska by month for 2016.

 

In Table C we present stations, which reported new annual record high temperatures, once again for the time period since 1949. Here we selected all stations, which reported for this time period. The data are also presented in graphical format in Figure 3.

 

Table C: Select stations with record high temperatures for 2016

 

 

2016 Mean Annual Temperature Records

Station

New
Record

Old
Record

Difference

Year of
old Record

Anchorage

41.5

40.6

0.9

2014

Annette

49.3

49.1

0.2

2015

Barrow

18.9

17.1

1.8

1998

Bethel

36.8

35.0

1.8

2014

Bettles

27.6

26.9

0.7

1981

Delta Junction

34.4

33.3

1.1

1981

Dutch Harbor

44.1

43.4

0.7

2015

Haines

44.3

43.7

0.6

1981

Juneau

44.8

44.5

0.3

2015

Kenai

40.0

38.8

1.2

2014

King Salmon

41.7

40.5

1.2

2014

Kodiak

45.0

44.5

0.5

1983

Kotzebue

29.7

28.6

1.1

2014

Kuparuk

18.4

17.5

0.9

1998

McGrath

32.0

31.9

0.1

2014

Nenana

33.2

31.6

1.6

2015

Nome

32.6

31.7

0.9

2014

Skagway

47.1

44.9

2.2

2015

Sitka

48.6

47.4

1.2

1993

St Paul Island

40.4

39.8

0.6

1979

Yakutat

44.0

43.7

0.3

1981

 

 

 

 

Figure 3: Map of the mean temperature rankings for select stations in Alaska for 2016.

 

The Washington Post published an article entitled "Arctic Ocean getting warm, seals vanish and icebergs melt". This paper was not published in recent times, but on 2 November 1922. Looking at the long time temperature series for Barrow, the most northerly station in Alaska, for which good data are available the early 20th century, the last year was not the warmest but 1918 holds the record. In general, the first decades of the 20th century were a warm period in Alaska (Wendler et al 2016).

 

A similar observation can be found for Fairbanks, which in the first half of the 20th century was the largest town in Alaska and has a temperature record exceeding a century (Wendler and Shulski 2008). While Fairbanks also observes a general warming trend, with large deviations from a linear trend, 1926 is still the warmest year ever observed.  

 

Precipitation

 

The mean annual precipitation of the 19 stations was 33.83", which is 4% below the long-term mean. As reported previously (Shulski and Wendler 2007), there is a very large variation in the precipitation totals, when traversing from the southeast to Arctic Alaska. For example, Yakutat reported for 2016 a total of 120.69", while Barrow in Northern Alaska, recorded a value of just 5.42" for the same time period. It is even more remarkable as Barrow for 2016 reported 20% above normal precipitation, while the value for Yakutat was 22% less than normal. This large gradient in precipitation explains the fact that the most glaciers are found in southern Alaska, with many calving in the ocean, while in the Brooks Range, in Northern Alaska, with much colder temperatures, glaciers are less common and smaller in size. In Figure 4 the precipitation values are presented across Alaska, however, isolines are not provided, as large variations can occur over short distances especially in mountainous terrain and in the summer due to localized shower activities. The figure shows that most of Alaska is fairly close to normal in precipitation. Expressed in percentages, Fairbanks with 149% of normal recorded relatively the highest amount of precipitation, while Yakutat reported relatively the lowest amount with 78% of normal. More details can be seen in Table D, in which the actual deviation values by station are presented,

 

Figure 4: Precipitation deviations (%) from the normal (1981-2010) for 2016 based on all twenty First Order stations in Alaska.

 

 

Table D: Observed precipitation for 2016, normal precipitation (1981-2010) and deviations from the mean for the 19 First Order stations in Alaska.

 

Station

Precipitation

Observed
(in)

Normal
(in)

Delta
(in)

Delta
(%)

(%)

Anchorage

16.53

16.58

-0.05

0%

100%

Annette

93.60

101.63

-8.03

-8%

92%

Barrow

5.42

4.53

0.89

20%

120%

Bethel

16.15

18.54

-2.39

-13%

87%

Bettles

15.60

14.90

0.70

5%

105%

Cold Bay

41.75

41.67

0.08

0%

100%

Delta Junction

9.25

11.62

-2.37

-20%

80%

Fairbanks

16.06

10.81

5.25

49%

149%

Gulkana

9.07

11.26

-2.19

-19%

81%

Homer

31.02

24.34

6.68

27%

127%

Juneau

64.03

62.27

1.76

3%

103%

King Salmon

26.04

19.49

6.55

34%

134%

Kodiak

81.99

78.00

3.99

5%

105%

Kotzebue

8.88

11.00

-2.12

-19%

81%

McGrath

19.86

18.00

1.86

10%

110%

Nome

16.05

16.81

-0.76

-5%

95%

St. Paul Island

28.30

23.67

4.63

20%

120%

Talkeetna

22.39

27.97

-5.58

-20%

80%

Yakutat

120.69

155.12

-34.43

-22%

78%

 

In Figure 5 the monthly deviations are presented. Three months reported below normal precipitation with October leading with -45%, followed by November (-29%) and January (-22%). Three months (April, May and August) were close to normal with deviations of less than 4% in either direction. September was much too wet with a value of 27% above normal, followed by March, June, July, December and February in declining order.

 

Figure 5: Precipitation deviation for the mean of the 19 First Order stations in Alaska by month for 2016.

 

 

Snowfall

 

Precipitation falls in summer as rain, but in winter as snow. "Winter" is, of course, much longer in Northern Alaska, e.g. Barrow, than in the Southeast. It should be pointed out, that only 15 of the 19 First Order Stations measure snowfall, while Delta Junction, Gulkana, Homer and Talkeetna, do not report snowfall amounts. Over all, snowfall was about half of the expected amount. The deviations from normal are presented in Table E and in Figure 6.

 

Table E: Observed snowfall for 2016, normal snowfall (1981-2010) and deviations from the mean for the 15 First Order stations in Alaska.

 

Station

Snowfall

Observed
(in)

Normal
(in)

Delta
(in)

Delta
(%)

(%)

Anchorage

36.8

74.5

-37.7

-51%

49%

Annette

5.8

34.9

-29.1

-83%

17%

Barrow

36.6

37.7

-1.1

-3%

97%

Bethel

17.7

61.8

-44.1

-71%

29%

Bettles

68.3

91.4

-23.1

-25%

75%

Cold Bay

37.3

73.1

-35.8

-49%

51%

Fairbanks

46.9

65.0

-18.1

-28%

72%

Juneau

27.2

86.7

-59.5

-69%

31%

King Salmon

19.4

46.6

-27.2

-58%

42%

Kodiak

10.3

68.9

-58.6

-85%

15%

Kotzebue

47.4

59.8

-12.4

-21%

79%

McGrath

41.1

97.3

-56.2

-58%

42%

Nome

47.0

75.7

-28.7

-38%

62%

St. Paul Island

40.2

59.8

-19.6

-33%

67%

Yakutat

29.5

143.4

-113.9

-79%

21%

 

 

Figure 6: Mean annual snowfall deviations for fifteen of the First Order stations in Alaska for 2016.

 

As 2016 was the warmest year on record, a larger percentage of the precipitation falls as rain and not as snow. Nevertheless, the deviations from normal are astounding, especially in Southern Alaska, where the temperature even in winter can be above or close to the freezing point. Kodiak (15%) Annette (17%) and Yakutat (21%) of normal are the stations with the relatively lowest snowfall amount.

 

In Table F some of the maxima are presented. The highest temperatures were measured in Fairbanks and Bettles with 88°F in both cases. This is not surprising, as the Interior is the warmest area of Alaska in the summer; the absolute highest temperature ever measured in Alaska was in Ft. Yukon with 100°F.

 

The largest daily amount of precipitation occurred in Yakutat (3.74"), which measures also the highest annual precipitation amount, a result to be expected. However, that the highest amount of snowfall for 2016 was recorded in Fairbanks is more astounding, as normally the coastal and Alaska Ranges shelter the Interior from the advection of large amount of water vapor. However, the strong storm at the end of the year brought 10.4" of snow within a 24-hour period to Fairbanks.

 

Table F: Some notable facts for 2016 for the 19 First Order stations in Alaska.

 

Element

Date

Station

Value

Highest Temperature

7/13,14/2016

Fairbanks

88°F

Highest Temperature

7/14/2016

Bettles

88°F

Lowest Temperature

11/30/2016

Bettles

-44°F

Highest Daily Average

7/14/2016

Fairbanks

74.5°F

Lowest Daily Average

11/29/2016

Bettles

-36.0°F

Most Daily Precipitation

9/12/2016

Yakutat

3.74"

Most Daily Snowfall

12/29/2016

Fairbanks

10.4"

Most Snow on the Ground

4/4/2016

McGrath

45"

 

 

Forest Fires

 

 

Figure 7: Area burned by wildfires in Alaska for 2016 (red) and 2015 (green). Note that most of the area burned occurred in the interior, specifically in then middle Yukon Flats, and comprising mostly of boreal forest. Data courtesy of the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center.

 

For more exhaustive monthly statewide summaries as well as some select station summaries, including more detail on record events, please visit the ACRC website at: http://akclimate.org. For seasonal values visit ACCAPÕs website for the AlaskaÕs Climate Dispatch at: http://ine.uaf.edu/accap/. In addition, the papers referenced below can be accessed from the ACRC's website at: http://akclimate.org.

 

 

References

Mantua N, Hare S, Zhang Y, Wallace J, Francis R. A pacific interdecadal climate oscillation with impacts on salmon production. BAMS 1997; 78: 1069-79.

Shulski, M., and Wendler, G. 2007. The Climate of Alaska. University of Alaska Press, 216 pp

Wendler, G., M. Shulski and B. Moore 2010: Changes in the Climate of the Alaskan North Slope and the ice concentration of the adjacent Beaufort Sea. Theoretical and Applied Climatology. 99, 67-74 

Wendler, G. and M. Shulski 2010. A Century of Climate Change for Fairbanks, Alaska. Arctic 62(3): 295-300 

Wendler, G. L. Chen and B. Moore 2012. The first Decade of the New Century: A cooling trend for most of Alaska. The Open Atmospheric Science Journal 6, 111-116

G. Wendler & L. Chen & B. Moore, 2013, Recent Sea Ice Increase and Temperature Decrease in the Bering Sea area, Alaska , Theor. Appl. Clim

G. Wendler, B. Moore, K. Galloway, 2016, Strong Temperature Increase and Shrinking Sea Ice in Arctic Alaska , The Open Atmospheric Science Journal , 8, 7-15

 

This information consists of preliminary climatological data compiled by the Alaska Climate Research Center, Geophysical Institute, University of Alaska Fairbanks. For more information on weather and climatology, contact the center at 474-7885 or visit the center web site at http://akclimate.org. Please report any errors to webmaster@akclimate.org.