Nome experiences unusual heat wave
For three days Nomeites struggled with high temperatures seldom seen so close to the Arctic Circle.
“Nome airport was three days at 80°F or higher and that’s only happened one other time, more than 50 years ago,” said UAF climatologist Rich Thoman. Inland, in Dexter, it got into the 90°s F, according to Dexter resident Gay Sheffield.
While temperatures in the 80°Fs won’t impress many people from the Lower 48, when you’re not used 80°F it’s seriously hot.
Temperatures at Nome Airport were just above 80°F on July 7, 8, and 9.
Is that just a blip, which means little or is it an indicator of change in the climate?
“By itself it doesn’t mean much,” said Thoman. “But it’s coming on the heels of the warmest June on record and on top of the warmest spring on record. So it’s all part of this same pattern. By itself in isolation it’s just a heat wave. But it doesn’t happen in isolation, it’s on top of all this other stuff.”
“We were selling fans and we sold out,” said Bradley Larsen at Bonanza Express. “We’ve got a new shipment coming. Even our little fans sold out.”
Alaska Commercial’s Brandy Arrington said they had people asking for fans but didn’t have any to sell.
“We did not receive our fans in time and we did not have any in stock,” she said.
The waters of the Bering Sea are warmer than usual. Has that raised the temperature on land as well? “The first and most important thing is the big hot high pressure aloft,” said Thoman. The warm water, which was in place before this big bubble of hot air formed, means that places immediately along the coast don’t cool off. “That means the sea breeze is weaker than it would have otherwise been.”
The sea breeze is responding to the difference in the temperature of the water and over the land. “It’s not like it’s never gotten to 90°F at Dexter before, but with the warmer ocean, the sea breeze is weaker,” Thoman said. “And then the other influence of this warm water is that warmer means more evaporation off the surface of the water into the atmosphere.” Water vapor functions like a greenhouse gas. “More water vapor in the atmosphere helps it stay warmer at night than it would have otherwise been,” explained Thoman. “While the warm ocean was not as important as the big high pressure, without the warm ocean it would have been a different heat wave. It might not have been that different in the interior of the Seward Peninsula. But it was certainly warmer in downtown Nome than it would have been otherwise.”
The question of fish survival in warm rivers has been addressed, At Pilot Station the Yukon River measures 70°F. There is less oxygen dissolved in warmer water so the fish are suffocating. Growth of parasites is also more pronounced in the salmon.
A drive down the Council Highway during the three hot days found many people on the beach and a lot of them getting into the water. Even when it has warmed up the Bering Sea is great place to cool off.