Alaska and Northwestern Canada quarterly climate impacts and outlook: December 2019

Weather and climate highlights and impacts, September to November 2019; climate outlook January to March 2020

Weather and climate highlights for September 2019 to November 2019
Long description

Utquagvik: Warmest autumn of record, 2.8°F (1.6°C) warmer than previous warmest in 2016

Bettles: 28.3” (72.1 cm) snow November 26 to 28, highest 3 day total of record

Tok: Northwest of Northway, 36.1 inches (91.7 cm) snow, highest autumn total in 31 years

Bethel: Autumn precipitation of 178% of normal and highest since 1924

Anchorage: Warmest autumn of record just ahead of 2018

Ketchikan: First autumn with above normal rainfall since 2015, with short-term drought impacts largely ameliorated

Old Crow: 28 November 2019 highest daily maximum temperature on record since 1951 of 26.4°F (-3.1°C).

Watson Lake: 17 November 2019 greatest one day precipitation on this day on record since 1938 of 0.32 inches (8.1 mm)

Prince George: 17 November 2019 highest daily maximum temperature on record since 1912 of 53.4°F (11.9°C)

Sept – Nov 2019 Temperature Averages (°F/°C) and Anomalies (Above Normal)

September to November 2019 temperature averages (°F/°C) and anomalies
Long description

All of Alaska, Yukon, central and western Northwest Territories and northern BC were warmer than normal. Fort St. John and Prince George, BC had near normal temperatures during this past autumn.

Sept – Nov 2019 Precipitation Totals (inches/mm) and Anomalies (Dry / Wet)

September to November 2019 precipitation totals (inches/mm) and anomalies
Long description

The map shows the precipitation totals this past autumn were above normal over most of Alaska and normal to below normal in Yukon, Northwest Territories and Fort St. John and Prince George, BC.

Co-producing culturally relevant sea-ice climate products
A case study in western Canadian Arctic communities

In the spring of 2018, ECCC joined a partnership with the Marine Environmental Observation, Prediction and Response (MEOPAR) to engage northerners on impactful weather to their way of life/travel. In September 2019, along with the Canadian Centre for Climate Services (CCCS), the project was expanded to include sea ice impacts on travel in the arctic. Scientists from the University of Victoria, joined by representatives of Environment and Climate Change Canada visited the hamlets of Sachs Harbour, Ulukhaktok, Tuktoyaktuk and Inuvik in the Northwest Territories in September/October 2019. Kugluktuk, Cambridge Bay and Gjoa Haven visits are scheduled for March 2020.

The focus of the trip was to strengthen relationships with arctic communities through engagement and outreach activities with local residents. Activities included the sharing of local weather and sea ice knowledge, the introduction of sea ice products currently available for the Canadian arctic and discussions on how to best tailor those products to the needs of the communities. Meetings were hosted in each community to share information on the project and to learn from active hunters, mayors and elders about their way of life, traditions and concerns. The sharing of knowledge highlighted the continued impact of hazardous weather and thinning sea ice to Indigenous Peoples and northern communities.

The trip also allowed the MEOPAR/CCCS project to collaborate with local residents to build capacity in understanding and interpreting weather and sea ice products and services. Locally hired research assistants visited the University of Victoria and the Prairie and Arctic Storm Prediction Centre in Edmonton, as part of a training and knowledge exchange opportunity in February 2019. This partnership has provided two-way sharing of knowledge between forecasters and Indigenous and northern communities.

Utqiaġvik 28 November 2019 sea ice camera photo at noon

Photo of coastal Utqiaġvik on November 28, 2019
Long description

The photo of open ocean at coastal Utqiaġvik, Alaska on November 28, 2019 illustrating the lack of sea ice. There was very little sea ice this autumn at Utqiaġvik and record low sea ice extent in the Chukchi Sea. Strong west winds on November 28 produced minor coastal flooding that closed roads.

Antecedent dry conditions, low water and low hydro generation

Photo of Mayo Yukon Dam, photo credit: Yukon Energy
Mayo Lake surface water elevation in 2019 (black line) and historical levels
Long description

A dry, hotter than normal, spring and summer in central Yukon created the pre-conditions that led to low lake water levels persisting through the fall months in Mayo, Yukon in 2019. The low water level will likely prevent electricity generation capacity unless precipitation raises the lake level above the minimum for generation.

Southern Alaska Autumn 2019 drought conditions

The figure above shows moderate drought in southern coastal Alaska in early September a small area of drought in late November

Autumn 2019 began with drought or abnormal dryness in southern Alaska, stretching from the Alaska Peninsula in the west to the Panhandle in the east, as shown in the image above. The repeated autumn storms brought a range of near normal to much above normal precipitation to southwest and southcentral Alaska. While this largely put an end to the drought conditions at low elevations, it was warm enough on the Kenai Peninsula that the mountain snowpack was well below normal at the end of November. Southeast Alaska also received significant rainfall during what is typically the wettest time of year, which greatly helped to ease drought impacts by largely refilling many reservoirs used for water supply and electric power production. The rain was frequent but generally not excessive during the autumn, although minor flooding was reported in the Ketchikan area on November 13. However, overall dry conditions have been in place for a couple years, and ecosystem services (e.g. fish flows) sensitive to long term precipitation will require more rain and higher elevation snows to return to normal.

Sea ice conditions 2 December 2019 in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas

Map of the sea ice coverage for Chukchi, Sea Bering Sea, and the southern Arctic Ocean north on August 26, 2019

Sea ice coverage around Alaska was exceptionally low this autumn. The westernmost Beaufort Sea did not become entirely ice covered until the second week of November, and, overall, this was the second to latest ice-over date for the Beaufort Sea in the 41-year satellite record. The Chukchi Sea annual minimum ice extent was reached on September 17 but only slowly increased thereafter, as open water persisted very far north until late in October. Overall, the daily average sea ice extent for autumn was only 23 percent of the 1981-2010 average. Bering Sea ice was minimal through October.

Map showing departure from normal of sea-ice over the eastern portion of Beaufort Sea December 2, 2019
Long description

The map shows departures from normal of sea-ice over the Beaufort Sea for December 2, 2019.

November saw more ice development near the Alaska coast than in 2017 or 2018 but was still only about half of the 30-year average. Since freeze-up began in September, the general ice growth lagged significantly relative to the Canadian Ice Service’s 30 year ice climatology (1981-2010). Overall, ice growth was between 3 and 5 weeks later than normal, mostly over the southern and western portion of the Beaufort Sea. By early December, almost the entire region was expected to be covered by ice; however, this year the ice coverage was about 6-7 weeks later than normal, albeit by about 6% below the normal 97% ice coverage for December 2nd.

Temperature and precipitation outlook: January to March 2020

A combined Canada-USA climate forecast model provides temperature and precipitation outlooks for October to December 2019.

Temperature outlook: January to March, 2020

Joint Canada-USA probability forecast of a departure from normal temperatures for January to March 2020
Long description

The maps from a combined Canada-USA forecast model are used to provide a temperature and a precipitation outlook for January to March 2020.

The temperature outlook map for January through March 2019 shows that Alaska and northwest Canada have a 40 to 100% chance of above average temperature (yellow to brown colors), with the highest probabilities found in the northern coastal parts of Alaska, including the Aleutian Islands northern Canada. Exceptions are Central Yukon and most of central and southern Northwest Territories (NT) where near normal or slightly below normal temperatures are probable.

Precipitation outlook: January to March, 2020

Joint Canada-USA probability forecast of a departure from normal precipitation for January to March 2020
Long description

The precipitation outlook map for January through March 2020 shows that the majority of SW Alaska, northern BC and SE Yukon, along with most of central NT, have a 40 to 70% chance of above normal precipitation (green areas). Northwest Alaska and part of W Central & SE Yukon will likely have near normal precipitation (white areas) with some AK, Yukon and NT areas having a 40-50% chance of below normal precipitation (brown areas).

Content and graphics produced by a partnership between Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy and Environment and Climate Change Canada.

Alaska Region Partners:

  • Alaska Climate Research Center
  • Alaska Climate Science Center
  • National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC)
  • NOAA / National Weather Service (NWS) Weather Forecast Offices
  • NOAA NWS Alaska Region
  • NOAA / National Environmental Satellite
  • Data, and Information Service (NESDIS) / National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI)
  • Scenarios Network for Alaska + Arctic Planning


Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy contacts

Rick Thoman: rthoman@alaska.edu  
Brian Brettschneider: brbrettschneider@alaska.edu


Environment and Climate Change Canada western contact

Mark Barton: mark.barton@canada.ca

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