After the ‘blob’, warm weather persisted — except in Southeast

The “blob” is dead, and in 2017, Alaska’s above-normal temperatures went with it.

Not everyone enjoyed the changes that last year brought to Alaska’s weather, however.

“I think looking at the big picture, maybe the story for 2017 was that it was not as entirely dominated by warmth as 2016,” said Rick Thoman of the National Weather Service in Anchorage.

Brian Brettschneider of the International Arctic Research Center agrees. In a world that saw one of the warmest years on record, “we kind of found a little sweet spot where it was way above normal but it wasn’t record above normal,” he said.

In Southeast Alaska, average annual temperatures fell as a mass of abnormally warm North Pacific Ocean water dispersed. That unexplained mass became known as “the blob” to those following weather and climate. Juneau finished the year with an average temperature of 41.3 degrees, eight-tenths of a degree below normal. In Sitka, the average temperature of 45.5 degrees was almost exactly normal, just 0.2 degrees above that average mark. Yakutat, at 40.8 degrees on average, was a half-degree above normal.

In 2016, Juneau saw its warmest year on record, and so did Alaska as a whole. At the end of the year, the warm offshore water returned to normal.

“At this point, I think we can say the blob has gone the way of all blobs. It has passed away,” Thoman said.

The North Pacific blob still left profound effects behind. In late 2017, the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council cut Pacific Cod quotas by 80 percent in the Gulf of Alaska because cod populations suffered amid the warmer water. Some salmon populations also appear to have suffered, but it’s not entirely clear.

Western Alaska was more removed from the blob, but the Bering Sea and the waters off Kotzebue remained abnormally warm through 2017. In both winters, sea ice levels plunged to astonishingly low levels, exposing the Bering coast to severe storms and keeping winter temperatures high.

“Whereas we maybe lucked out on temperatures, we may be un-lucked out on sea ice, and we’re suffering the effects of that,” Brettschneider said.

According to National Weather Service measurements, Kotzebue’s December temperatures were almost 6 degrees above normal. In Utqiagvik, monthly temperature records were set every month from October through December.

“In western Alaska especially, it was an especially warm year,” Thoman said.

In Juneau, it was also a wet year. The city finished with 69.57 inches of precipitation (rain and melted snow), above its average of 62.27 inches. (Last year was also above average, at 64.03 inches.)

That contributed to what the National Weather Service’s Juneau office labeled “the summer that wasn’t.” Temperatures remained low for most of the summer, and combined with clouds and rain to starve capital city residents of sunlight. The warmest day of the year was 81 degrees, and it was the only day that topped 80 degrees this year. Juneau had just 14 70-degree days in 2017. The average is 19.

The city recovered from a nearly snowless 2016, which had only 27.2 inches of snowfall, to record 66.7 inches of snow in 2017. That figure was still 20 inches below average, however. Juneau hasn’t had its normal snowfall since 2013.

December recap finds Juneau extremely average

If, long from now, someone looks into the Big Book of Weather Records and peers at the data for December 2017, they will find a month fairly close to normal.

It was anything but that.

In a month that averaged 1.4 degrees above normal, Juneauites saw the highest temperature ever recorded here in December and a low temperature just one degree above zero.

A cold and snowy November turned warm and wet during the first few weeks of the month, and capital city residents saw the thermometer hit 54 degrees on Dec. 8. That mark was also reached in 1999 and 1944, but it has never been topped: It is the highest ever recorded in December here.

All measurements were taken at Juneau International Airport, where the National Weather Service has maintained the city’s official measuring point since 1936.

Temperatures fell to the single digits by the end of the month, reaching 1 degree on Dec. 31.

On that last day, the capital city saw an inch of snow, allowing it to narrowly escape the ignominy of having the least-snowiest winter on record. The 1.3 inches of snow tallied in December are instead the second-lowest figure recorded in that month here. Only December 1969, with 0.7 inches, had less snow.

Despite the lack of snow, Juneau had plenty of moisture. The only problem was that it fell as rain.

In December, 8.07 inches of precipitation (rain and melted snow) were recorded at the airport, making this past December the 12th wettest on record, 2.23 inches above normal.

Conditions at the start of January have resembled those at the start of December more than those at the end of December, as warm and wet weather arrived with the new year. The Weather Service expects more seasonable temperatures and snow to return by the weekend.


• Contact reporter James Brooks at james.k.brooks@juneauempire.com or call 523-2258.


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