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Alaska’s Winter Just Won’t Quit

By: Christopher C. Burt, 8:06 PM GMT on May 20, 2013

Alaska’s Winter Just Won’t Quit

In spite of days that now feature as much as 19 hours of daylight in Fairbanks at this time, winter in Alaska has stubbornly dragged on into the 3rd week of May. April was the coldest such on record for Fairbanks and the city has yet to see a single day with above normal temperatures since April 2nd. Temperatures fell to -12°F (-24.4°C) in Deadhorse just yesterday (May 19th).

So far this month Fairbanks has averaged 11.8°F (6.6°C) below normal with the past week of May 12-18 averaging 35.7°F (2.1°C) or 13.6°F (7.6°C) below normal: the week’s temperature range should have been between a low of 40.1°F (4.5°C) to a high of 63.6°F (17.6°C). Keep in mind that temperatures in the 80°s are not that uncommon at this time of the year in Fairbanks given the long days of daylight. In fact, a 90°F (32.2°C) reading occurred on May 28, 1947. The cold May is on the heels of the city’s coldest April on record (which averaged 14.5°F/8.1°C below normal). There have been two daily record lows set so far this month including a reading of 24°F (-4.4°c) on May 18th (the 2nd coldest temperature ever measured so late in the season).

Bettles, Alaska (about 220 miles northwest of Fairbanks) has faired even worse: they have had 7 daily record lows so far this month including a 10°F (-12.2°C) reading on May 19th. No reading under 14°F/-10°C (on May 19, 1975) has been measured here so late in the season.

The May monthly temperature extremes for Bettles, Alaska. Note how unusual a temperature as low as 10°F/-12.2°C is at this time of the month. Table from NWS-Fairbanks.

Anchorage had 0.4” of snowfall on May 17-18 and the 0.1” on May 18th broke the record for the city’s longest period of time between measurable snowfalls for any season: 232 days from their first snowfall on September 29th, to Saturday’s event. The previous record for such was 230 days during the season of 1981-1982. The high temperature last Friday (May 17th) was just 37°F (2.8°C), the coldest maximum ever measured so late in the season (previous record was 37°F on May 4 in 1945 and 1949). Overall, this May has averaged 5.4° below normal so far in the city.

Amazingly, a reading of -12°F (-24.4°C) was recorded at Deadhorse on May 19th (where there is now 24 hours of daylight) and it was -7° (-21.7°C) at Kuparuk. The -12°F reading is likely the coldest temperature ever measured so late in the season for the state of Alaska being that the all-time state record for May is just -25°F (-31.7°C) set at Chandler Lake in early May 1992.

METARS data for Deadhorse on Sunday May 19th. The wind chill fell to -26°F (-32.2°C) at times! Deadhorse is the airport that services the Prudhoe Bay oil facility on the shore of the Beaufort Sea in far northern Alaska. The normal minimum for May 19th here is 19°F. (-7.2°C). Data from NWS-Fairbanks.

Christopher C. Burt
Weather Historian

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The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.

Reader Comments

It also appears the tripod on the Tanana River still stands.
I didn't know it could stay so cold with the sun angle so high.
Scientists say Alaska is like a canary in a coal mine, foreshadowing the types of changes we can expect for the rest of the world.

DEadhorse temp. is the lowest for the season now just for Alaska but possibly for the whole Hemisphere at low elevation. Note that lowest May temperature for Northern Hemisphere (at low elevation) is -35.0C (Cambridge Bay, Canada) while the lowest for June is -17.8C both at Cambridge Bay and at Cape Chelyuskin (the lattest being in Russia). -24C on 19 May is a potential record for the whole Hemisphere, but we would need to check many arctic stations day by day from 19 May to 31 May every year to be sure.
Nome has also had a very cold May and there is still lots of snow there, about half a meter.
But the same story is for the Northwestern Canada and in general for all Northern Canada. Look at what happened 2 days ago on the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador , up to HALF A METER OF FRESH SNOW at sea level in a blizzard at just above 50 degrees of latitude with temperatures dropped as low as -6 -7 the following night right on the coast.

In the meanwhile in Lapland people have been wearing bikinis for 2 days with temperatures around 80F.

Norvegian mountains have a record low snowdepth for this time of the year.
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