Temperatures hit 90 degrees for the first time in Anchorage yesterday, decimating the previous record of 85 degrees. This year, the state experienced its hottest June on record, following its hottest spring on record.
At the same time, the state is experiencing significantly more widespread wildfires, which are eating up vegetation that were dried out by the heat and spruce trees killed by spruce bark beetle, which thrive in warmer temperatures.
Brett Anderson, a senior meteorologist for AccuWeather, says that 634,000 acres in Alaska have been burned by fires this year, compared to about 411,000 acres in all of 2018.
Brian Brettschneider, a research climatologist at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, warns that extreme weather is only going to get more common in the region.
“It’s extremely challenging to attribute any particular event to climate change. But that said, it’s much more likely for these type of events to occur in a warming world,” Brettschneider says.
Anderson says that rising global temperatures are making extreme weather events worse.
“It’s certainly adding to it, no question about it,” Anderson says. “It’s not as rare as it used to be.”
In Alaska, temperatures are being driven up by warmer water and reduced sea ice, Anderson says.
In the northernmost parts of the state, melting permafrost is also releasing methane gas, which further contributes to climate change.
This summer, the hotter temperatures have had the worst effect in the southern two thirds of Alaska, including Anchorage, Anderson says.
A week ago, temperatures in the state capital, Juneau, broke records three days in a row.
Brettschneider argues that as the climate changes, people in Alaska — and across the country — need to learn to adapt to more changeable conditions.
In Alaska, he says, the state has already started to construct bigger culverts around roads to ensure that they can handle increased precipitation.
“Cities are built, to a large degree, for the climate that they exist in. In Alaska, probably zero combined houses have central air conditioning. In the entire state. Because that’s the climate that we live in — or we used to live in,” said Brettschneirder said. “We need to rethink how we build cities for the future.”
In all 50 states, the rolling average temperature has been trending up fairly consistently for about 50 years.
In no state is that figure lower than the 20th century average, nor has it been for at least a decade.
Alaska sits near the top of those lines.
Earlier this year, the government announced that 2018 had been the fourth-warmest year on record, with the Arctic warming faster than the rest of the planet.
Anchorage isn’t within the Arctic Circle, but it’s clear that Alaska’s increased warmth stands out even among U.S. states.
When George W. Bush took office, states in the United States were on average about 0.8 degrees warmer over the preceding decade than they had been over the past century.
When Barack Obama took office, that figure was 1.2 degrees.
Last year, it was 1.6 degrees.