At the northern tip of Alaska, the city of Utqiagvik on Monday reached its warmest temperature ever observed between November and March, when the mercury shot up to 40 degrees — 36 degrees above the norm.
“For a station with 100+ years of observation to break a monthly record by 6F and a seasonal record by 4F is very significant,” wrote Rick Thoman, a climate scientist based in Alaska, in an email. He noted that Monday was “only the third December day on record to have a high temperature above freezing” in Utqiagvik, formerly known as Barrow.
Who turned up the thermostat? Utqiagvik saw its warmest day ever for the month of December, breaking a record of 34°F degrees set in 1932! This temperature is also the warmest day between Oct. 20th and April 22, passing 39°F set in November 1937. #akwx pic.twitter.com/ya90r7ZXKN— NWS Fairbanks (@NWSFairbanks) December 5, 2022
The extraordinary temperature came at the conclusion of a recent warm spell and more than two weeks since the sun last set in the city more than 300 miles north of the Arctic Circle. The sun won’t rise there again until late January. Despite plunging into total darkness, the city and much of the Arctic have witnessed unseasonably mild air in recent days.
Record temperatures in the upper 30s and lower 40s were widespread across Alaska’s North Slope on Monday. Thoman noted that Umiat, about 170 miles southeast of Utqiagvik, also saw its temperature reach the 40s for the first time in December since at least World War II.
High temperatures Monday Dec 5th thru 430pm AKST. Most of the temperatures in the upper 30s/lower 40s are likely all-time December records, though only long term obs are Utqiaġvik & Umiat. Not quite record level on the coast Nuiqsut eastward. #akwx #Arctic @Climatologist49 pic.twitter.com/YppxPtYog7— Rick Thoman (@AlaskaWx) December 6, 2022
Some of the warmth across the region is traced to a zone of a low pressure to its west and high pressure to the south. Together, the pressure systems drew unusually warm air northward, before a cold front arrived, dropping temperatures back below freezing.
Thoman also pointed to open water in the Chukchi Sea, to the west of Alaska’s North Slope, as a contributor to the warmth. The loss of sea ice, because of human-caused climate change, allows the air to heat up more quickly.
Record-setting temperatures moved into the region late last week. Utqiagvik set a record high for Dec. 2 on Friday and registered its warmest low temperature for December that same day.
December is off to an atypically warm start across much of the Arctic. According to the University of Maine’s Climate Reanalyzer website, temperatures over the region average 11.5 degrees (6.4 Celsius) above normal.
To start December, Greenland’s capital city of Nuuk reached 50 degrees and a majority of the island’s weather stations rose above freezing. Iceland began the month with temperatures as warm as 58 degrees, following a very warm November.
The December warmth across the Arctic comes on the heels of a November that was the eighth warmest on record, according to data post to Twitter by climate scientist Zack Labe. In Alaska, temperatures up 10 degrees above normal were logged during the month.
2022 is on target to finish as one of the Arctic’s toastiest on record.
A recent study showed that the Arctic is warming up to four times faster than the rest of the globe and that numerous extreme events have been tied to this warming.
During July, a summer storm dumped 1.42 inches of rain in 24 hours in Utqiagvik, breaking the record. An increase in precipitation across Alaska’s North Slope is “surely tied to [a] dramatic decrease in late summer and autumn sea ice,” Thoman told The Post in July. That reduction in ice increases moisture availability.
Additional precipitation extremes have been observed in Alaska in recent months. Juneau, the state’s capital, saw its wettest January and February on record this year, and the interior city of Fairbanks was slammed by nearly 2 inches of rain in a December 2021 ice storm without cold-season precedent.
Climate change is affecting the state in other ways, too.
Unusually warm temperatures probably enhanced vegetation growth in Southwest Alaska’s sparsely populated tundra, leading to a record-breaking 2022 wildfire season. And coastal flooding — exacerbated by rising seas and reduced ice coverage — has hit communities in northern and western Alaska hard in recent years, especially as powerful storms, such as one that struck in September, batter the state.