While Americans in the lower 48 states are bundling up, weather reports from Alaska announced February temperatures as high as the mid-50s for parts of our northernmost state. Thermometers in Alaska are breaking record highs, and while some people in the lower continental United States might be jealous, the Alaskan heat waves might spell bad news for residents of the Last Frontier.
— WPXI (@WPXI) February 17, 2015
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell visited Kotzebue this week at the invitation of the Alaska Federation of Natives, according to Alaska Dispatch News, to discuss among other things, the warming of the Alaskan region.
In addition to the warming trend in Alaska, the state is reporting low snow fall. There was so little snow that the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race was forced to move its official restart to Fairbanks in the Alaskan Interior from the Southcentral community of Willow for the second time.
Anchorage, Alaska, never dipped below 0 degrees this year. http://t.co/Saeaszu5jQ
— David Roberts (@drgrist) February 19, 2015
Part of Alaska’s geographical make-up is its permafrost. Roads, airports, and even buildings are built upon the hard frozen earth of Alaska. As the temperature has warmed at record rates, parts of the Alaskan permafrost have thawed. The result has been buckled roads, collapsed buildings, and a lack of support for established forests’ root systems, which results in trees leaning over so much that they have named the phenomenon “drunken forests.”
Though Alaska is used to forest fires as part of the climate, which are needed for its ecosystem, last year, an usually warm winter with low snow fall brought devastation to parts of Alaska in the spring. Wildfires burned out of control. By late May, the Alaska Interagency Incident Management Team announced that the Funny River forest fire alone had burned nearly 200,000 acres.
AICC Predictive Services warns of another risky May for Alaskans this year.
“This winter has been extremely mild across the state. Much of southern Alaska has had very little snow, leaving the more wind-blown areas virtually snow-free. Anchorage set a new warm record, not dipping below 0F for all of 2014. Northern Alaska has some snow on the ground, but not nearly as much as normal. And Interior Alaska finally had its first 40 to 50 below stretch at the end of January … almost unheard of to make it that late in the year! After a very wet summer, drought is not a concern at this point, but low snowpack may lead to a vigorous early fire season.”
Meanwhile, the EPA warns of other, more long-term dangers to the Alaskan wilderness as temperatures refuse to lay low for the winter.
“Higher temperatures and less summer moisture increase the risks of drought, wildfire, and insect infestation. Alaska’s boreal spruce forest declined substantially in recent decades from both fire and insect damage. By mid-century, the average area burned by wildfire each year is likely to double.”
— USGS (@USGS) February 18, 2015
So, while the nation’s happiest state seems to roll with the punches, the reality according to officials, is that Alaska’s new hot trend in temperatures is altering the geography, ecology, and economy of the Last Frontier in a not-so-hot way.