The coldest it has been on this day in Anchorage, Alaska, since 1954 is 20 degrees Fahrenheit below zero. The coldest it has been on New Year's Eve in that same time period is even colder: -25. But this year, the lows are expected to be 33 and 27 degrees respectively -- meaning that 2014 will be the first year on record that the temperature didn't drop below zero.
As Alaska Dispatch News notes, the last time the temperature was below zero (again: in Fahrenheit) was Dec. 26, 2013. That was the tail end of a cold snap, of the kind not uncommon in winter -- particularly in Alaska. But ever since, temperatures have been above zero according to readings taken at the airport, with low temperatures reaching zero only once, on February 11.
Complete annual records from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration begin on Jan. 1, 1954. Since then, the number of days Anchorage went below zero each year has dropped from an average of 33.2 in the 1960s to 16 in the 2000s. The year with the second-fewest below-zero days was 2002 (the red line on the graph above).
This is an admittedly arbitrary metric. Zero degrees Fahrenheit is significantly colder than zero degrees Celsius, the freezing point of water. Anchorage is in no immediate danger of becoming a tropical paradise. It's the sort of data point that those seeking bolder action on climate change will embrace, but, as the first chart shows, there's a tremendous amount of volatility in low temperatures, particularly during the winter. One bit of data does not a long-term warming trend make, and next year could very easily see Anchorage experiencing several weeks of below-zero temperatures.
It is, however, the sort of thing that we should expect to see more of. This has been the second-warmest January-to-November period on record in Alaska; ski resorts near Anchorage didn't have enough snow to open for the Thanksgiving holiday. The state has warmed twice as fast as the rest of the country, thawing permafrost and glaciers.
Anchorage's 2014 could be a false alarm; it could be a little spike on the dial. Or it could be the first of many such years to come.