Alaska Climate Research Center

The Alaska State Climate Center
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The Alaska State Climate Center
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2020 Annual Report


January: Fairbanks had a longer than average cold spell of days below 5 °F. The temperature was below 5 °F for 34 days from December 30, 2019 until February 2, 2020. This was the 4th longest streak of days below 5 °F. The last time a similar event happened was in the winter of 1974-75, however that event had much colder temperatures. The longest stretch of days below 5 °F was 49 days in the winter of 1942-43.

Kodiak had a snowfall of 22 inches over the 24-hour period from the afternoon of Tuesday, January 28th to the afternoon of Wednesday, January 29th causing the Kodiak Island Borough School District to cancel classes for the first time in more than a decade. Many businesses also closed, including the borough offices, medical centers, the senior center, and the airport.

February: Snowfall, locally strong winds and blowing snow created regional extreme avalanche conditions. A snow machine rider was buried in an avalanche and died near Cooper Lake on the Kenai Peninsula on February 10th. Heavy winds and blowing snow likely contributed to the avalanche according to Wendy Wagner, director of the Chugach National Forest Avalanche Information Center.

Anchorage set a new daily snowfall record on February 18th, the same day it tied the daily record for maximum high temperature. Temperature went up briefly to 44 oF degrees in Anchorage early on February 18 during the midnight hour, tying the daily record high for the date. However, a cold front then pushed through Anchorage, causing temperatures to drop. Snow fell throughout the day due to the cold front and another low that was approaching from the south. By the end of the day 8.9 inches of snow fell, setting a new daily snowfall record.

March: A 17-year-old man died after he was caught in an avalanche in Hatcher Pass on March 9, 2020. According to the Hatcher Pass Avalanche Center, more than 30 inches of snow accumulated at the pass over the weekend, creating dangerous avalanche conditions.

The Iditarod started on March 8, 2020 with deep snow along much of the trail, in contrast to recent years when little to no snow marked long sections of the trail. Three Iditarod mushers were rescued March 20 after they activated their emergency beacons. According to the Alaska State Troopers’ release, warm weather “has caused deep overflow on parts of the trail and the wind has been constant”. The Army Guard added that “south blowing winds had persisted overnight and pushed seawater up onto the Iditarod Trail, and the mushers weren’t aware that it was underwater.” Race crews reworked the section of trail so that remaining teams could proceed to Nome.

April: Rapid snow melt and river breakups caused flooding in low-lying areas across the Interior. The Taylor Highway was closed after an overflowing river washed out a section of the road at Mile 54 on April 22nd. An ice jam in the Chena River resulted in a 2-foot rise in water levels in downtown Fairbanks and minor river overflows along the Chena Hot Springs Road, the Dalton Highway, the Elliott Highway, and the Taylor Highway on April 23rd.

A record-breaking Arctic ozone hole closed. The Earth’s ozone layer acts as protection between the sun’s harmful UV radiation and the Earth’s surface. The ozone hole opened up in March before becoming the largest stratospheric ozone hole observed over the Arctic. The hole was driven by an unusually strong and long-lived polar vortex. Earlier in April, scientists from the European Space Agency said that the hole covered an area about three times the size of Greenland. The hole disappeared as temperatures increased, breaking down the Arctic polar vortex and allowing ozone-depleted air to mix with ozone-rich air from lower latitudes. Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service announced the closure on April 23rd. Paul Newman, chief scientist for Earth Sciences at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center said that if people hadn’t stopped putting chlorofluorocarbons into the atmosphere because of the Montreal Protocol, the ozone hole would have been much worse.

May: A large ice jam damaged buildings and property in Kotzebue on May 28th as lake ice in Kobuk Lake became stuck and pushed onto shore. The buildings had been there a long time and had never been damaged by an ice jam.

Lightning ignited at least 15 fires across Alaska during the last weekend in May. There were approximately 1,858 recorded lightning strikes throughout the state on Saturday, May 30th and more than 2,900 on Sunday, May 31st. Most of the new lightning-caused fires over that weekend occurred in Southwest Alaska. The only human-caused fire on Saturday, May 30th occurred when a structure fire in Anchor Point spread to grass and was quickly extinguished by firefighters.

June: June 2020 was the second wettest June ever in Juneau, with 7.3 inches of rain falling (normal = 3.2 inches). The record of 7.48 inches was set in June 2014.

Wreckage from a 1952 plane crash on a mountain near Anchorage is melting out of the Colony Glacier. High melt rates and opening crevasses mean the wreckage needs to be recovered sooner than later in order to finally give closure to the families.

July: Kodiak experienced an unusually dry year, receiving only 23.8 inches of rain since the start of 2020. This is about 20 inches less than normal. Meanwhile, Juneau reached its summer rain average of 13 inches by July 26. This contrasts with last summer, when Juneau was extremely dry, seeing only 10 inches of rain. Record rainfall was recorded in June for Fairbanks, breaking the previous record set in 1962.

A powerful 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of the Alaskan Peninsula, about 17 miles deep, around 10:15 PM on July 21st. No tsunami was reported.

August: Unalaska recorded 120 mph winds when a rapidly developing storm moved from the North Pacific and across the Eastern Aleutians. This is the strongest storm to affect Alaska during the month of August on record. Ketchikan unofficially broke its summer rainfall record with 47 inches in the months of June, July and August. Of the 90 or so days from June through August, Ketchikan saw 68 days with measurable rainfall. The city’s previous record, 67 days, was set in 1933 and last tied in 1966.

The National Weather Service recorded 2020 as a record year for rainfall in Juneau. Juneau International Airport secured the 5th wettest meteorological summer, measuring 19.89 inches of precipitation from June – August.

September: A low pressure system in the Gulf approached the Alaskan coast on September 26th, bringing strong winds and big waves to the southeastern Alaskan coast. Kodiak experienced extreme weather due to two powerful weather systems at the end of September.

October: Record low Arctic sea ice in October seen as alarming, as regrowth has been slower than ever.

A magnitude 7.6 earthquake struck near Sand Point, Alaska on October 19, 2020. The earthquake occurred as the result of strike-slip faulting near the subduction zone interface between the Pacific and North America plates and is considered to be an aftershock of a large M 7.8 quake in July 2020.

November: On Monday, November 2nd, temperatures dropped to -23°F in Fairbanks for the first time this season, which is the earliest the city has recorded a temperature that low since October 25, 1996. The coldest November 2 on record in Fairbanks is -33°F, and that temperature reading was recorded back in 1907. Several hundred miles to the east of Fairbanks, the remote town of Chicken, Alaska, (population of 13, according to the United States Census Bureau) reached -40°F early Monday, making it the earliest minus 40 or below reading in Alaska since 2008, according to the National Weather Service (NWS).

December: At the beginning of the month, on December 2, 2020, a severe storm with heavy rainfall led to destructive landslides, mudslides and flooding in communities throughout Southeast Alaska. Several homes were destroyed and two residents were killed in Haines. The disaster is considered to be a 200-500 year storm event.

On December 3, 2020, a tandem of three surface cyclones was observed off the coast of Alaska, connected to each other with the frontal boundary in between. The westernmost system was the strongest and most organized, with a central pressure of 978 mbar.

At the end of the month, on December 31, 2020, a new Alaska land-based low pressure record was set when pressure dropped to 924.8 mb in Shemya, Alaska. The previous record was set back in 1977. This bomb cyclone in the far western Aleutian Islands did not cause major damage to communities.