Baked Alaska: State Endures Warmest Month on Record

August 9, 2019, 7:17 PM EDT

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Above:  The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite captured an image of thick wildfire smoke swirling over the state on July 8, 2019. Meteorologists in Fairbanks reported visibility had dropped to less than one mile due to smoke, and air quality sensors in the city reported skyrocketing levels of particulates in the air. Image credit: NASA Earth Observatory.

July 2019 was the warmest month on record for the state of Alaska, smashing the previous record by almost one full degree Fahrenheit and leaving numerous local records for hottest day and warmest month in the superheated dust. Records for statewide average temperatures date back to 1925 (with partial data since the late 1880s). Four of the top 10 warmest single months on record (all Julys) has been set in just the past four years. This past June was also the second warmest June on record for the state (following June 2004).

Hottest monthly temperatures on record for Alaska
Figure 1. July 2019 was the warmest single month on record for the state of Alaska,. surpassing the previous record for such (July 2004) by the largest margin ever observed. Four out of the top 10 warmest months on record have occurred in in just the past four years (July 2019, July 2018, July 2017, and July 2016). Image credit: Brian Brettschneider, from NCEI data.

Some of the records set

Anchorage made national news on July 4 when its official temperature at the International Airport peaked at 90° for the first time on record, smashing the previous all-time record of 85° measured on June 14, 1969. The early July heat in Anchorage was unlike anything the city has ever experienced in modern records. Daily high temperature records were broken on six consecutive days from Jul 3 through July 8 (including 85° readings on July 7 and 8, which would have been a tie for the all-time record in their own right).

Just beforehand, June saw five daily record highs from June 23-29. So in the 15-day span of June 23-July 8 eleven days broke their daily heat records! July also had 11 daily high minimum records broken.

The month of July was also the warmest single month on record for the city, with an average temperature of 65.3° crushing the previous warmest month record of 62.7° set in July 2016. In addition, the previous month was the warmest June on record for the city, with an average of 60.5° (previous record 59.5° in June 2015). It should also be noted that July was the 17th consecutive month in Anchorage with an above-normal average monthly temperature. Every single day in Anchorage from May 30 to at least August 7 (as of this writing) has been above normal.

Hottest monthly temperatures on record for Anchorage, AK, airport
Figure 2. July 2019 was the warmest month on record for the city of Anchorage, mimicking the trend for the entire state. The 65.3° average temperature crushed the previous record of 62.7° (set in July 2016) by an astounding 2.6°F. June was also the warmest such month on record setting the stage for what is sure to be the warmest climatological summer (June-August) on record for the city. Image credit: Brian Brettschneider from NCEI data.

It wasn’t just south-central Alaska that baked in July. Other important sites that also measured their warmest single month on record—shown below with the first year of the period of record (POR)—include:

Gulkana: 62.4° (previous record 61.4° in July 2009), POR 1921-
Homer: 58.5° (previous record 58.2° in August 2016), POR 1932-
Iliamna: 63.2° (previous record 59.4° in July 2016 and August 2004), POR 1941-
—June also set a monthly record at Iliamna, with a 57.3° average temperature.
Kenai: 59.4° (previous record 59.0° in July 2016), POR 1899-1907, 1943-
King Salmon: 61.2° (previous record 59.8° in July 1997) POR, 1917- (some years missing)
Kodiak: 60.4° (previous record 60.3° in July 1936), POR 1931-
Kotzebue: 63.8° (previous record 60.0° in July 2009) POR, 1929-
—Kotzebue also observed its warmest June and warmest May on record. As of August 7, it has not had a single day averaging below normal since February 14! The last month with a below-normal temperature average was two years ago, in August 2017.
McGrath: 64.0° (previous record 63.8° in July 2017), POR 1941-
Northway: 62.4° (previous record 62.0° in July 2009), POR 1943-
Talkeetna (Mt. McKinley area): 65.2° (previous record 64.2° in July 2008), POR 1918-
Utqiagvik (Barrow): 48.3° (previous record 46.8° in August 1989), POR 1921-
Yakutat: 59.6° (previous record 57.7° in August 2016), POR 1917-

Numerous other sites with shorter POR’s also observed their warmest month on record.

Departures from average July temperatures at various points in Alaska, July 2019
Figure 3. Every significant weather station in the entire state of Alaska saw much above normal average temperatures during July 2019, a rare feat for such a vast and geographically diverse area. Image credit: Brian Brettschneider from NOAA data.

What is extraordinary about all the records is that the sites where they occurred are representative of a huge portion of what is a vast state. On July 5 the statewide absolute minimum temperature (out of 287 stations) was 42°. That is the warmest daily minimum on record for Alaska since at least 50 stations began collecting daily observations (around 1920). The average statewide temperature on July 6 was likely the highest for any day in any year since at least 1915.

Alaska compared to size of contiguous U.S.
Figure 4. Alaska coves a huge amount of territory with its landmass being the equivalent of 21.3% of that of the contiguous U.S. This makes it fairly rare, at least during the summer, that the entire state would see above normal temperatures. Image credit: Alaska State Archives.

Needless to say, it has been a hellish fire season for the state, with 2.4 million acres charred as of the end of July.

It’s not just Alaska

Unusual warmth has engulfed much of the world’s far northern latitudes this past month. In Greenland, the town of Narsarsuaq saw its temperature soar to 23.4°C (74.1°F) on August 1, not too far from the August monthly heat record for Greenland of 24.1°C (75.4°F) measured at Nuuk on August 26, 2003. The warmth has resulted in unprecedented ice melt, according to Danish officials (197 billion tons of ice melted in July with an additional 12.5 billion loss on August 1 alone, the greatest single-day loss on record). Reykjavik, Iceland had a July monthly average temperature of 13.5°C (56.2°F), some 2.7°C (4.8°F) above its July normal of 10.8°C (51.4°F).

An unusually hot and dry summer in Siberia has resulted in massive wildfires that have engulfed an area the size of Maryland or Belgium (about 15,000 square miles or 10 million acres). Smoke from the fires has drifted as far east as western Canada. Temperatures in the burn area averaged as much as 8°C (14°F) above normal earlier in the summer.

Massive wildfires continue to rage in the Krasnoyarsk Krai, Sakha Republic, and Zabaykalsky Krai regions of Siberia as of August 6
Figure 5. Massive wildfires continue to rage in the Krasnoyarsk Krai, Sakha Republic, and Zabaykalsky Krai regions of Siberia as of August 6. Some 2.6 million hectares (about 10 million acres or about 15,600 square miles—twice the size of Massachusetts) have been scorched so far, making it one of the largest fire complexes in modern history. Image credit: Avialesookhrana/TASS/Getty Images.

At Alert, Canada, the most northerly land-based weather station and permanently inhabited place in the world (located at 82° 30’ latitude), the temperature reached 21.0°C (69.8°) on July 14, its warmest temperature ever observed. This was followed by a nighttime (July 14-15) minimum of 15.2°C (59.4°) an extraordinary figure for a site so close to the North Pole, although the sun shines 24 hours a day here this time of the year.

And, of course, there was the extraordinary heat wave that affected Western and Northern Europe the last week of July. Portions of Scandinavia experienced their warmest temperatures on record, including the city of Helsinki, Finland, where the 33.3°C (91.9°F) measured on July 28 broke their all-time record. See the Category 6 posts for a comprehensive list of the many all-time records set on July 24-25 and July 26.

Arctic ice melt as of early August was on pace to be the greatest in observation history although we won’t know if this turns out to be the case until mid-September when the sea ice extent normally reaches its lowest (the record being from September 2012).

Arctic sea ice extent, 8.6.19
Figure 6. As of August 6, Arctic sea ice extent is at its lowest level on record (since measurements of such began in the 1970s). If the trend continues through September, it may equal or surpass the record lowest extent that occurred in September 2012. Image credit: National Snow & Ice Data Center.

KUDOS: Brian Brettschneider (climate researcher at the University of Alaska's International Arctic Research Center) for the graphics and many of the temperature records noted in this blog, and partial data back to the late 1880s, and Etienne Kapikian (Météo-France) for the Greenland temperature records.

Christopher C. Burt
Weather Historian

The Weather Company’s primary journalistic mission is to report on breaking weather news, the environment and the importance of science to our lives. This story does not necessarily represent the position of our parent company, IBM.

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Christopher C. Burt

Christopher C. Burt is the author of "Extreme Weather; A Guide and Record Book." He studied meteorology at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

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