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Taken by storms … and heat

Winter was snowier, summer was hotter and storms were UNUSUALLY FREQUENT in the Arctic this year, leaving several records shattered and some wondering if the extreme weather is a sign of what’s to come. Kotzebue experienced its HOTTEST JULY SINCE THE 1940s when the city began keeping records. The average temperature for the month was 66 degrees — that’s 5.3 degrees warmer than normal — and UNUSUALLY DRY as well. August looks to be a record-breaking month as well, with a high so far of 67 degrees on Aug. 5. “Normally in August the first week or two is cool, then we warm up and then in the end there is a cooling trend into September. But we were almost 20 degrees warmer the first week of August than we were last year.”

If it wasn’t enough that the city is getting baked, it’s also been smelling smoke from forest fires in the interior drift north and northwest. It’s been so bad, the state’s Department of Air Quality advised that young children, the elderly and the sick stay inside, and healthy people avoid prolonged outdoor activity. Barrow had its sixth warmest July, but it’s also been the FIRST TIME THAT THE TEMPERATURE DIDN'T DIP TO FREEZING AT ANY POINT DURING THE MONTH. There were also a few stand-out days — Barrow had its warmest July 12, at 73 degrees, and July 30, at 72 degrees. July 28 tied the previous record of 70 degrees. Barrow’s highest temperature ever was 79 degrees, recorded on July 13, 1993. “It’s a big thing that has happened, especially in July. There is usually maybe one day a year when we have high temperatures in the 70s."

With the summer heat came another UNUSUAL kind of weather — thunderstorms along the coast of the Northwest Arctic. When a hot day erupted into a stormy evening in Kotzebue on June 22 "people were shocked. No one could remember back to when there was a real honest thunder and lightening storm in Kotzebue. I had people calling me up asking ‘is this really happening?’ ” While storms are common in the Selawik Valley, it is RARE that they make it to the coast, where cool weather blows off the ocean. Kivalina got hit with stormy weather as well, which is UNUSUAL. The Northwest is being influenced by a ridge of high pressure that’s locked in eastern Alaska. That ridge makes the atmosphere in the east too stable for storms, but has warmed up the west just enough.

The hot summer came on the heels of a winter that pounded Arctic communities with huge snowfalls. Barrow got 77.9 inches of snow over the course of the year, which is almost triple the 28 inches it usually gets. But that was hardly anything compared to what Kotzebue got. A whopping 47.4 inches got dumped on Kotzebue in February alone, more than nine times the historical average. At least one inch of snow fell during 13 different days in February, 10.7 inches on the last two days. Kotzebue usually gets 49.4 inches in an entire winter. “So, Kotzebue essentially received nearly A YEAR'S WORTH OF SNOW IN 28 DAYS". The drifts only got deeper in the beginning of March, when 21.6 inches fell in just the first 10 days, four times the monthly average. Snowy winters and hot summers might seem like an unlikely pairing, but last winter was fairly warm, and warmer winters are more favorable to snowfall because the atmosphere can hold more water.
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