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

Weather and climate highlights and impacts, December 2018 to February 2019; climate outlook April to June 2019

Weather and climate highlights for December 2018 to February 2019
Long description

Utqiagvik: Average temperature of -3.4 °F (-19.7 °C) makes this winter the third warmest winter on record. The 5 warmest winters in the past century have occurred since 2013.

Nome: With 69.8” (177.3 cm) of snow, this is the second highest winter snowfall on record.

Cold Bay: The average winter temperature of 33.7 °F (0.9 °C) was 4.3 °F (2.7 °C) above normal, and third warmest on record.

Ketchikan: Coldest February since 1936 with an average temperature of 29.6 °F (-1.3 °C).

Northwest Territories: Warmer and drier than average winter conditions over the majority of the region. Inuvik saw their second warmest winter on record with an average temperature of -2.4 °F (-19.1 °C).

Burwash: Wettest February since 1967 with 0.87” (22.1 mm) of precipitation.

Prince George: Coldest February since 1943 with temperatures of 23.5 °F (12.5 °C) colder than normal. The nearby town of Terrace saw their second driest February on record with only 10.2% of normal precipitation.

Temperature and precipitation, December 2018 to February 2019

Most of Alaska, northern Yukon and the northwestern portion of the Northwest Territories (NT) were significantly warmer than normal during this past winter, with some areas in western Alaska near record warmth. In contrast, much of British Columbia (BC) and southwest NT where significantly colder than normal. In between, there was a narrow area where temperatures averaged near normal. Precipitation totals this past winter were well below normal over a large part of the NT, southern Yukon and Southeast Alaska, while much of mainland Alaska, northern Yukon and northeast BC were considerably wetter than average. Like temperatures, there were only small areas with near normal precipitation.

Kotlik, Alaska is located on a channel of the Yukon River only a short distance from Norton Sound. Nearly ice-free seas combined with a strong storm on February 11 to 12, 2019 elevated ocean levels enough to cause water to flow back up the Yukon River, overtopping river ice and spilling into town. Elders reported that there had never before been flooding at this time of year. Photo credit: Philomena Keyes.

Flooding in Kotlik, Alaska on February 11 to 12, 2019

Although ice conditions in the Beaufort Sea at the end of February 2019 were near normal, small isolated pockets of open water were observed near the shore. The photo below shows open water near Ulukhaktok, NT on February 12, 2019. Photo credit: Jack Akhiatak.

Open water near Ulukhaktok, Northwest Territories on February 12, 2019

 

 

Climatological temperature anomalies for December 2018 to February 2019
Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC)
Long description

The map shows the temperature averages (numbers) and anomalies (shaded areas) for the December 2018 to February 2019 time period. Over that period, most of Alaska, the central and northern portions of Yukon, and the northwest portion of northwestern NT experienced warmer than average conditions. Below average temperatures were recorded in northern BC, and in Yukon and NT along the BC and Alberta border.

Climatological precipitation anomalies for December 2018 to February 2019
Source: NOAA and ECCC
Long description

The map shows the precipitation totals (numbers) and anomalies (shaded areas) for the December 2018 to February 2019 time period. Total precipitation was above average over most of Alaska, with the exception of Kodiak Island and the western portions of the Aleutian Islands, and over a small area in northeastern BC.  Below normal precipitation was observed over most of southern Yukon, the portion of the NT showing on the map, and along the west coast of BC and southeastern Alaska.

Low Bering sea ice

Autumn 2018 started with very warm ocean temperatures in the southern Chukchi and Bering Seas, resulting in slow sea ice formation. Despite a slow start, seasonably cold temperatures and frequent northerly winds during December 2018 and early January 2019 allowed for rapid ice growth and optimism for more normal spring sea ice conditions.

Normal spring sea ice conditions were unfortunately not to be: starting in late January 2019, the weather changed to persistent southerly storm conditions, with 15 separate storm systems affecting the northern Bering Sea region through February 2019. This “parade of storms” decimated the existing sea ice by melting or pushing the ice north through the Bering Strait and into the in the southern Chukchi Sea.

The impacts to coastal communities were immediate, and people were left to change their food-gathering strategies to adapt to a novel open water winter situation in order to provide for the nutritional, cultural, and economic needs of their communities.

Sea ice extent during February 2019 was the second lowest documented, at 56% of normal. Despite low sea ice conditions in February 2019, the February 2018 sea ice extent in the Bering Sea remains the lowest record in the satellite era (since 1979) with just 42% of the 1981-2010 average. Sea ice extent in Alaska during March 2019 is not off to a good start, as there is already less sea ice compared to March 2018.

Open water between Little and Big Diomede Islands on March 1, 2019
Long description

The photo, taken on Little Diomede Island, shows the absence of sea ice between Little and Big Diomede Islands on March 1, 2019, and illustrates the absence of sea ice in the middle of the Bering Strait. Photos courtesy of: Google Earth, NASA, and E. Soolook.

High pressure system and warm temperatures over the region

The winter in Alaska and northwest Canada started near normal, but a persistent patch of high pressure over the Gulf of Alaska from mid-January to mid-March (see figure above) has led to above average temperatures across much of Alaska, northern Yukon and the western part of the NT. The weak El Niño conditions likely contributed to the warm winter in the region. This pressure pattern also led to colder than normal conditions in central BC and elsewhere in central Canada. Warmer than normal conditions will likely continue into the spring with enhanced precipitation in central Alaska.

February 2019 weather pattern over Alaska and northwest Canada
National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP) and National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) reanalysis: February 2019
Source: NOAA/Earth System Research Laboratory (ESRL) Physical Sciences Division
Long description

Key February 2019 weather pattern with high elevation winds (jet stream) pushed north by a blocking high-pressure system. This blockage is steering unusually warm air to the far north of Alaska and northwestern Canada.

The weather of the 2019 Yukon Quest

Participants of the 2019 Yukon Quest saw a wide range of weather conditions. Teams experienced cold conditions at the beginning of the race, with temperatures reaching sub -40 °C/°F at the Braeburn checkpoint in Yukon. Temperatures slowly warmed up to -5 °C by the time the first few teams crossed the finish line in Fairbanks, Alaska.

Lower than average snow conditions in Yukon affected this year’s route, preventing trailbreakers to fill in holes and cover up exposed roots with snow. For the safety of dogs and mushers, teams were trucked between the closed portion of the trail between Braeburn and Carmarks.

The Alaskan portion of the race did not see a shortage of snow this year. In fact, a few storms brought heavy snowfall and high winds to the region. As commonly happens, Eagle Summit experienced clear-sky conditions combined with a few episodes of inclement weather. This year, a few teams climbed Eagle Summit in strong winds and whiteout conditions while some of the first teams covered this section under blue sky conditions.

Dog teams travelling over the top of Eagle Summit in a storm on February 12, 2019
Long description

Deke Naaktgeboren (Alaska) and Andy Pace (Alaska) mush over the top of Eagle Summit in a storm with a group of two other mushers on February 12, 2019. Photo credit: Seth Adams

Sea ice conditions at the end of February 2019 in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas

A turn to seasonably cold weather in December 2018 allowed for freeze-up in the Chukchi Sea to proceed more quickly than the previous winter, although freeze-up was still more than 2 weeks later than the pre-2000 average. Similarly, seasonably cold temperatures and persistent northerly winds allowed ice growth in the northern Bering Sea during December 2018 and most of January 2019. While still below normal, December 2018 and January 2019 sea ice extent was not exceptionally low. A dramatic change in the weather pattern in late January and early February 2019 produced almost continuous south to southeast winds. This resulted in the loss of more than 50% of the ice area in the Bering Sea in February 2019; by the last day of the month, there was less ice in the Bering Sea than during the previously unprecedented low extent of 2018. By late February 2019, only a small area of sea ice remained in the Alaskan portion of the Bering Sea, while the Russian Bering had slightly more ice than in late February 2018.

Sea ice in the Beaufort Sea has reached maximum extent for the season, with no discernable departure from normal ice conditions at the end of February 2019 (white areas on the entire departure from normal concentration figure). The location of the old ice edge in the Beaufort Sea, on the other hand, migrated northwards between December 2018 and February 2019. The old sea ice edge was about 50 to 90 nautical miles off the NT, Yukon and Alaskan coasts in December 2018. By February 2019, the southern edge of the old ice migrated about 120 to 180 nautical miles from the coast. As a result, the old sea ice situation during the past 3 months went from greater than normal old ice concentration to less than normal old ice concentration over the southern Beaufort Sea area.

Map showing departure from normal of sea-ice over the eastern portion of Beaufort Sea for February 25, 2019
Statistics based upon 1981 to 2010
Long description

The map shows departures from normal of sea-ice over the Beaufort Sea for February 25, 2019. Ice coverage for the region was normal, as seen by the predominance of white areas.

Temperature and precipitation outlook: April to June 2019

A combined Canada-USA climate forecast model is used to provide temperature and precipitation outlook for April to June 2019. 

The temperature outlook for April through June 2019 shows that Alaska and northwest Canada have a 40 to 90% chance of above average temperature (orange-red colors), with highest probabilities found in the southern parts of Alaska and Yukon. The combined Canada-USA climate forecast model does not predict chances of below average temperatures for that period.

The precipitation outlook for April through June 2019 shows that most of southwestern and central Alaska, along with a small portion of central Yukon along the Alaska border have a 40 to 60% chance of above normal precipitation (green areas). The majority of remainder of the region have a 40 to 60% likelihood of below normal precipitation (brown areas).

Combined Canada-USA probability forecast of a departure from normal temperatures for April to June 2019
Long description

Forecast probability of temperature above, below and near normal (no calibration):

  • period: April, May and June 2019
  • produced on March 4, 2019

The map shows that between April and June 2019, Alaska and northwest Canada have a 40 to 90% chance of above average temperature (warm colors). The combined Canada-USA climate forecast model does not predict chances of below average temperatures for that period.

Combined Canada-USA probability forecast of a departure from normal precipitation for April to June 2019
Long description

The map shows that between April and June 2019, most of southwestern and central Alaska, along with a small portion of central Yukon along the Alaska border have a 40 to 60% chance of above normal precipitation (green areas). The majority of remainder of the region have a 40 to 60% likelihood of below normal precipitation (brown areas).

Content and graphics prepared in partnership with the 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 contacts

Gabrielle Gascon: gabrielle.gascon@canada.ca
Mark Barton: mark.barton@canada.ca

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