Alaska Climate Research Center

The Alaska State Climate Center
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2022 Annual Report


January: Volcano eruption near Tonga: Early on January 15, many Alaskans heard mysterious booming sounds. These were later attributed to the eruption of an undersea volcano near Tonga in the South Pacific. Check out our blog post about the eruption’s shockwave.

Scientists aim to improve sea ice predictions: As the amount of sea ice in the Arctic declines and becomes more mobile, accurate forecasts are becoming even more vital for things like fisheries and resource development, shipping, subsistence activities and wildlife management.

The Alaskan Layered Pollution and Chemical Analysis project, or ALPACA, seeks to improve understanding of how pollution behaves in cold and dark conditions and how the layered atmosphere affects pollution events. Experts gathered at UAF in January to work on ALPACA.

February: Ocean heat waves trigger ‘squid bloom’ along Pacific Northwest coast: Marine heatwaves driven by climate change have fuelled a dramatic increase in market squid along the Washington and Oregon coast over the past two decades, which could disrupt the existing ecosystem.

Nova episode explores Arctic methane explosions and follows several scientists from the University of Alaska Fairbanks as they seek to understand these holes, which are openings created by underground methane explosions. 

The Loss through Auroral Microburst Pulsations (LAMP) experiment will study pulsating aurora, which will help scientists learn about how space weather changes atmospheric chemistry. 

March: Heavy snow in Interior Alaska this winter led to bison hanging out on plowed roads and digging up farmland. Deep snow prompted more bison to move onto plowed roadways in the Delta Junction area, leading to an increased number of collisions with vehicles.

Heavy snowpack in several Alaska river basins raised concerns of possible spring flooding. The Yukon, Tanana, Koyukuk, Kuskokwim, and Susitna basins all had more snowpack than usual, with some well above normal.

April: As Alaska warms, birch tree tappers in Talkeetna wrestle with erratic seasons. Sap runs are getting earlier and less predictable, trending towards an earlier and shorter window for ideal conditions.

George Divoky spent his 48th consecutive summer on Cooper Island studying the black guillemot, a bird that has become a symbol of a warming planet. 

Study finds: Precipitation helped drive distribution of Alaska dinosaurs. Precipitation, more than temperature, influenced the distribution of herbivorous dinosaurs in what is now Alaska, according to new research.

May: Denali’s historic, lingering snow season affected the park’s wildlife. Denali National Park melted out slowly from its snowiest winter season in 99 years of record keeping. The unusually heavy, lingering snow was challenging for park wildlife. 

The Nenana Ice Classic tripod, set up on the river ice March 5, tipped on the morning of May 1 but stayed in place. The current finally pushed the ice around the tripod at 6:47 pm Alaska Standard Time May 2. 

Flooding in Manley Hot Springs displaced residents and caused power outages. An ice jam formed on the Tanana River on May 7, resulting in the second- worst flood on record for the community. 

June: Amid Alaska’s permafrost areas, more soil is staying thawed year-round, UAF scientists find. Warmer winters and thicker layers of insulating snow are spurring creation of more taliks, sections of ground that doesn’t freeze even in winter.

July: Flash flooding in the Alaska Range caused damage and road wash-outs at multiple creeks along the Richardson Highway on July 11. The road remained closed from July 11 to July 17 when it was reopened for one lane traffic. More information: Alaska DOT.

A strong wind event on July 24-26 led to damage to the power grid due to downed trees and widespread outages in South-central and the Interior. Damage was particularly extensive in and around Fairbanks. Around 30.000 outages were registered on the Golden Valley Electric Association outage map. The Fairbanks Communications Center temporarily lost power, causing an about 45 minute breakdown of 911 services across much of the Interior. More information: AK Public Media.

August: The annual State of the Climate report was published in late August as a supplement to the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. Several UAF scientists contributed to the chapter on climate in the Arctic. Summarising 2021 climatic developments, the report finds that temperatures across mainland Alaska were near or below average during 2021, while the eastern Canadian Arctic and Greenland were warmer. Glaciers throughout the Arctic and particularly in Alaska and Canada lost significant ice during the 2020-2021 ablation season. Vegetation productivity was lower in 2021 than in the previous years.

September: Ex-typhoon Merbok caused severe and widespread damage along Alaska’s west coast from September 16 to September 19. Coastal communities the Kuskokwim delta to Norton Sound and the Bering Strait reported major flood and wind related impacts. Residents were forced to evacuate their homes and shelter in schools or seek higher ground, e.g., in Golovin, Hooper Bay, and Newtok. Flooding led to extensive infrastructure damage including washed out roads, flooded air fields, inundated homes, and destroyed berms and boats. Several homes reportedly floated off their foundations and numerous hunting and fishing camps - essential for subsistence - were destroyed. Merbok was one of the strongest September storms on record for the Northern Bering Sea. Nome reported a water level of 10.5 feet above the low tide level, the highest value since an extremely strong storm in November 1974.

October: Utqiaġvik and other communities on the Chukchi and western Arctic coast saw substantial flooding from the storm surge associated with a powerful storm system in the Chukchi Sea that arrived on Alaskan coasts around October 7 and 8. Water levels were lower than those during ex-typhoon Merbok in September, although not by much. The Bering Coast, which suffered widespread damage from Merbok, was not strongly affected by this October storm.

Landslides caused multiple road closures this month. Haines Highway was hit on October 1st and cleared soon after. Edgerton Highway was blocked by a slide on October 17th and again on October 19 at a different location. On October 31st, a slide occurred near Petersburg on the Miktof Highway. 

Many Alaskan rivers began to freeze. Unseasonable ice jams caused elevated river levels on the Tanana near Fairbanks and the Kuskokwim near McGrath. If ice forms during high water levels and the water under the ice later drains, the remaining ice can be dangerously unstable. The figure below shows the extreme jump in gage height at the Tanana in Fairbanks in late October.

November: River ice was slow to form in many regions due to the high temperatures throughout much of the month. Bethel Search and Rescue reports too much open water on the Kuskokwim River for safe travel.

Takawangha volcano in the western Aleutians was given “elevated alert” status after a series of small earthquakes that indicate increased volcanic activity. John Lyons of the Alaska Volcano Observatory said there is currently no cause for concern. It is not unusual to have multiple volcanos under elevated alert status.

Thick fog affected the Fairbanks area on several days during November. In cold conditions, for example during strong temperature inversions, power plants can produce large plume clouds that contribute to reduced visibility and fog formation downwind of the power plants. The webcam image below shows plumes spreading near UAF on November 28.

December: The early December warmth on the North Slope, the period of intense snow fall in Anchorage and surrounding areas, and the sustained cold spell shortly before Christmas were the defining weather events of the month and received coverage by various media outlets in and outside of Alaska.

Impactful winter weather throughout the state General winter weather impacted driving conditions throughout the state all through December. Clearing the record amounts of snow from Anchorage streets and side walks took some time and residents struggled to get around during the storms. Winter Storm Watches and Warnings were repeatedly issued by the NWS for affected areas. The western coastal areas saw multiple Bering Sea storm systems move up the coast, accompanied at times by whiteout and blizzard conditions.

Tanana Valley Jet: During the cold spell from about December 19th until Christmas, strong pressure gradients along the AK-Canada border switched on the Tanana Valley Jet, a local weather phenomenon that produces high wind speeds around Delta Junction and in the Tanana Flats. Due to temperature and pressure gradients, cold near surface air is funnelled through the topography of the Upper Tanana Valley. The air is “pushed” down valley through constrictions in the terrain and picks up speed, leading to gusty, windy conditions and potentially dangerous wind chill.