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New climate normals show a warming picture for Alaska

NOAA released latest 30-year normal temperatures for the US on Tuesday
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Anchorage Climate Normals(Climate Central)
Published: May. 4, 2021 at 7:49 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - One will often hear meteorologists say a temperature is above or below normal. Starting Tuesday, that “normal” has changed.

Climate normals are observations taken from about 15,000 weather stations across the country averaged over a 30-year period. Every ten years, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration updates that data set. The new data released Tuesday now uses observations from 1991 to 2020.

Overall, the state is warmer than during the previous normal period of 1981 to 2010. In particular, western and northern Alaska are warming the most. In Anchorage, the normal high and low temperature on May 4, for example, both went up a whole degree.

The strongest warming is focused mainly during fall and late winter. Anchorage is seeing temperatures about 1.5 degrees warmer during the months of October, November and February.

Not every month shows a warming trend. December and January show temperatures a little cooler in the southern portion of the state. This is likely due to some very warm Januarys back in the 1980s, which are now outside of the climate normals. Some of the coldest Januarys on record for Anchorage occurred in the 2010 decade, and are now included in the new data set.

One interesting tidbit from the new normals is that the climate classification for Fairbanks has changed. It used to be classified as “subarctic.” Now it is a “warm summer continental” climate. That’s due to May now having an average temperature above 50 degrees.

Anchorage is seeing more snow now, but it’s being concentrated into a shorter period of time. Anchorage’s snowfall totals have gone up for the season by about 3.5 inches. October’s snowfall totals have dropped by more than 2 inches. This means the additional snow that is now considered normal is being compacted into fewer months.

Climate normals are used for a variety of purposes, including figuring out the growing season or how much energy might be needed in a typical month for heating or cooling. The data is also used for basic travel information such as how cold it will be if a person is going to be in Fairbanks in January. The answer to that is that the average high for Fairbanks in January is less than 1 degree and the average low is 17 below.

These new normals give people an idea of how to live in this changing climate.

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