On Sunday, January 1st, after all 366 days of 2016 had come and gone, a climate scientist with the National Weather Service in Fairbanks finished a project that literally required the entire year’s worth of data. Rick Thoman, is the client science and services manager for the National Weather Service Alaska Region.
He looked at temperatures around the entire state for the whole year, and found that the data says it was more than just a reasonably warm year. For instance, he says the average temperature in Kodiak in 2016 was so much higher than normal, that it broke a record that stood for 90 years, since 1926.
“(That year) is really the highlight, is the warmest year over much of the state in the first half of the 20th Century. Of course, especially, before the 1920s, we don’t have a lot of information, but for coastal Alaska there’s enough we can be confident that 1926 was the bellwether warm year. And this year exceeded that. And that really puts it in that really long-term century-scale context.”
The amount Kodiak was above normal was just over 4 degrees Fahrenheit. Which may not sound significant, but, it was for the whole year.
“A stunningly few days were below average,” Thoman said. “In fact during 2016, in Kodiak, a remarkable 86 percent of days were above normal. Only 14% below normal. Really shocking.”
In a leap year like 2016, 86-percent equals 315 of the 366 days.
You may be reflecting on last summer and thinking, correctly, that it wasn’t exceptionally warm – not like 2015 when wildfires were a constant threat. That’s because, as Thoman notes, in a place like Kodiak, it’s going to be the increases in winter temperature that drive the average up.
“Summers actually will have much less affect on the average annual temperature because the range of variability in the summer is much smaller. You know if it’s two degrees above normal in Kodiak in July, that’s fairly large departure. Because temperatures are so confined,” he said. “In the winter, temperatures can range over a much wider range. So your cold season temperatures really have the biggest influence.”
But it wasn’t just Kodiak that experienced all-time record warmth for the year. Many communities did, including, Thoman says, the entire Southcentral and Southwest portion of the state.
“The persistence of the warmth was really the highlight of 2016,” Thoman said. “Most places, kind of if you draw a line from Anchorage to Seward southward, and from Anchorage to the Pribilofs, kind of the southwest quarter of the state, almost everyplace had 80 percent of days were warmer than normal in 2016. That is just stunning.”
Of course the waters and headlands in that described area encompass not just some the largest commercial fisheries in the state, but the world. Thoman said the effect on wildlife is a question that will have to be answered by someone else.