Tourists flocking to the beach in July is nothing new — unless you’re in Alaska. Anchorage hit a record 90 degrees Fahrenheit on July 4 — hotter than it was in normally hot and humid New York City this time of year. And if you’re thinking that sounds rather warm for a place less than 400 miles from the Arctic Circle, well, then, you just may be on to something.
Previous record high temps in Anchorage were set in 2016, twice in 2015, 2003, 1969 and 1953. Do you get a sense a trend is developing in recent years?
As 2019 marches forth to be among the hottest years on record, Alaska and other normally cold places experienced record high temperatures this past winter and spring:
- March temperatures in Alaska averaged 52 degrees F above normal
- Ice-encased Greenland recorded temperatures 40 degrees F above normal
- Seattle experienced record warmth in January
Heat melts ice > ocean absorbs heat > melts more ice
Most troubling about Alaska’s 2019 record high temperatures are how the unseasonably hot temperatures contribute to melting sea ice. The Arctic is a key player in global weather patterns. The more ice that covers the Arctic Ocean, the more heat is reflected back into space. But the increasing amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are trapping more heat, which then contributes to melting ice. As sea ice melt increases, the dark open ocean waters absorb the sun’s heat, warming the ocean and melting even more ice.
This melting cycle is in high gear this year, and by September the Arctic sea ice extent could be at a record low. As Arctic temperatures warm, the normally stable jet stream begins to wobble, drastically altering weather patterns across the Northern Hemisphere. As such, the weakened, wobbly jet stream contributed to record cold temperatures this past winter.
Diminishing returns of Arctic sea ice
Whether the Arctic sea ice extent hits a record low in September cannot diminish the fact the scenario is shaping up for a subsequently low winter sea ice extent, which would result in another low — and perhaps lower — summer sea ice extent in 2020. The Arctic is edging nearer and nearer to a dreaded “ice free” summer, which means a warmer atmosphere, more heat waves, and drastic changes to the ecosystem and food web (the focus of ensuing stories here).