‘Absurd’ weather patterns hit Alaska with record high December temperature of 19.4C

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Long icicles hang from a house where nearly a foot of snow fell over the weekend, on Monday, December 27, in Bellingham, Alaska (AP)
Long icicles hang from a house where nearly a foot of snow fell over the weekend, on Monday, December 27, in Bellingham, Alaska (AP)

Alaska has recorded record high temperatures for December amid a Christmas heatwave, which has brought temperatures approaching 20C, and heavy snow and rain which has then frozen, causing power outages and closed transport routes.

The highest temperature was measured in the Kodiak Archipelago where the air temperature at a tidal gauge hit 19.4C (67F) on Sunday – the highest December reading ever recorded in Alaska, according to scientist Rick Thoman of the Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy.

Speaking to the Reuters news agency he described the weather as "absurd".

The state has seen at least eight December days where temperatures, which would normally be well below zero, have climbed higher than 10C, including to 18.3C at the Kodiak airport, 16.2C at the Alaska Peninsula community of Cold Bay, and 13.3C at the Aleutian town of Unalaska on Christmas Day - the state’s warmest 25 December on record.

Warmer air holds much more moisture, meaning the state – which generally records very dry Decembers, has been hit by high levels of rain and snow.

Mr Thoman said usually any snowfall tends to be "the more fluffy powder because the air is nice and cold".

The Fairbanks area was hit by its fiercest mid-winter storm since 1937.

So much snow fell that on Sunday it caved in the roof of the only grocery store in Delta Junction, a town 95 miles southeast of Fairbanks.

The heavy snows have been followed by torrents of rain which have coated communities in the region with ice, triggering widespread power outages and prompting closures of major roads and offices, as well as a nickname: Icemageddon.

The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities warned that roads will remain treacherous for a long time because of the cement-like ice coating that has formed on them.

"Ice is extremely difficult to remove once it has binded to the road surface. Even though air temps were warm during #icemageddon2021, roads were at sub-zero temps, which caused ice to bind to the surface," the department wrote on Twitter.

Warm wet weather has become increasingly frequent in Alaska in recent decades due to the worsening climate crisis.

"This is exactly what we expect in a warming world," Mr Thoman said.

The heatwave is expected to end this weekend, with temperatures in Fairbanks forecast to plunge to -29C (20F) this weekend, but warm, soggy episodes are expected to be more numerous in the future, Mr Thoman said.

"A warming, moistening world has put our thumbs on the scale to make this more likely," he said.

Additional reporting by Reuters.

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