Alaska Hits 1st 50 Below Zero While Frigid Air Now Filters Into Lower 48

Written by on December 6, 2016 in United States of America, Winter 2016/17 with 0 Comments
By Jon Erdman
Published Dec 6 2016 08:34 AM EST
weather.com
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Temperatures have dipped between -40 and -50 degrees in some parts of Alaska since this weekend.

This cold snap will linger much of the week, if not longer.

This follows what has been a record warm year-to-date for many Alaska locations.

If you’re dreading the cold arriving this week, consider the frigid cold now enveloping Alaska and expected to last through much of the week in our 49th state.

(MORE: Arctic Blast Headed for the Rockies, Plains, South | Winter Storm Central)

Parts of Alaska’s interior saw temperatures as cold as the -40s over the weekend and into Monday. At least one location had fallen to -50 degrees on Tuesday morning.

Aptly named Arctic Village dipped to -44 degrees (Fahrenheit) early Monday morning. At least four other locations dipped to that frigid -40 degree mark Sunday or Monday morning: Atigun River, Bettles, Kanuti Lake and Norutak Lake, according to the National Weather Service in Fairbanks.

(WUNDERMAP: Track Alaska’s Bitter Cold)

Current Alaska Temperatures

Current Alaska Temperatures

Fairbanks dipped to 35 degrees below zero Sunday morning, the first time that had happened since Jan. 13, 2014, according to Alaska-based climatologist, Dr. Brian Brettschneider.

As typically occurs, this bitter cold air settled in valley locations such as the Tanana River Valley, producing an intense temperature inversion, trapping pollutants near the ground.

Subzero cold also plunged into Anchorage on Monday morning, snapping the second longest streak temperatures had remained above zero in Alaska’s largest city, according to Brettschneider, and was the coldest, there in almost three years, since Christmas Day 2013.

Though most areas have seen temperatures moderate a bit on Tuesday, the Yukon Flats in Alaska’s interior saw some of their coldest readings so far this season. Chalkyitsik had fallen to -50 degrees as of 4 a.m. local time on Tuesday.

The culprit for this bitter cold was blocking high pressure over the Bering Strait, resembling the Greek letter omega (Ω).

This feature essentially cut off any milder air flowing northward from the Gulf of Alaska in favor of either cold air from near the North Pole flowing south, or by simply letting the cold air in place refrigerate during the long nights at high latitude.

(FORECASTS: Anchorage | Juneau | Fairbanks | Utqiagvik, formerly Barrow)

Setup for the recent frigid cold in Alaska.

Record-Breaking Cold?

Surely, temperatures in the -40s are shattering at least daily record lows, right?

Actually, they aren’t, and in some areas, it’s not even close.

Rick Thoman, climate sciences and services manager with the National Weather Service’s Alaska region tweeted an eye-popping map of the daily record lows that were in place for Dec. 5.

Credit: Rick Thoman

Credit: Rick Thoman

In the Alaskan interior, including Fairbanks, early December daily record lows are in the -50s, even -60s in some of the coldest villages such as Tok, Northway, and Ft. Yukon, according to Thoman.

(MORE: The Coldest Temperatures Recorded in All 50 States)

Farther south, to set a daily record low in Anchorage, you need at least middle teens below zero.

Record Warm Year-to-Date

Despite all this recent cold, Alaska will flirt with setting its warmest year on record.

According to the Southeast Regional Climate Center, the majority of Alaska’s first-order reporting stations have had their warmest year-to-date through Dec. 4, including Anchorage, Juneau, and Utqiagvik (formerly Barrow).

Alaska year-to-date mean temperature rankings through December 4, 2016. A “1” signifies it has been the warmest year-to-date on record at that location. A “2” means it has been the second warmest year-to-date, and so on. (Southeast Regional Climate Center)

In Anchorage, the year-to-date mean temperature was running almost 2 degrees Fahrenheit above the previous warmest-year-to-date in 2013, an impressive feat in climate statistics.

America’s northernmost city, Utqiagvik (formerly known as Barrow), also had a mean year-to-date temperature almost 2 degrees above the previous record from 1998. It also set its record warmest fall.

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