Cold Octobers May Be Gone Forever in Alaska’s Arctic

Temperatures have risen 13 degrees since the 1980s in some communities.
(Photo: Andrew Peacock/Getty Images)
Nov 17, 2016· 1 MIN READ
Emily J. Gertz is an associate editor for environment and wildlife at TakePart.

Most of Alaska just sweated through the hottest October on record, according to figures released today by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Overall temperatures in the state were 4 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th-century average, with the Arctic communities of Nome, Kotzebue, and Barrow seeing record-setting highs, said Rich Thoman, a climate scientist with the Alaska Region of NOAA’s National Weather Service.

It was also “the driest October since 1925 in Alaska,” said Thoman, with “every single long-term climate site in the panhandle and the eastern Gulf Coast” registering the least October precipitation in recorded history.

October also saw a record low in Arctic sea ice, with the ice area almost 30 percent below its 1981-to-2010 average of 3.4 million square miles. “For the last week and a half of October, the Arctic was setting daily record-low sea ice extent values,” said Jessica Blunden, a climate scientist at NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information.

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“We know that the Arctic is the canary in the coal mine for climate change and warming temperatures,” Blunden said. “It’s not really a surprise to us that we saw record-low sea ice in October, especially given the high sea surface temperatures.”

The conditions in Arctic Alaska reflect fundamental changes in the region’s climate, Thoman said, noting that Barrow’s 10-year median October temperature has risen from around 11 degrees in the mid-1980s to about 24 degrees in the past several years. “Since 2001 there have been no cold Octobers [in Barrow]—not one!” he noted. “This change is a direct result of the catastrophic loss of Arctic sea ice along Alaska’s North Slope.”

The average temperature in the Lower 48 states was 57.7 degrees during October, 3.6 degrees over the 20th-century average and the country’s third-warmest October in 122 years of record-keeping, according to NOAA. But with average temperatures between January and August all hitting never-before-seen highs, the nation—and the world—is still on course to log the hottest year in the history of record keeping.

Between January and October, average temperatures across the continental U.S. were 1 to 5 degrees warmer than the 20th century average. Areas in darker shades of red saw bigger departures from the historic norm. (Photo: NOAA)