January 2014 saw the arrival of a new year coincide with the arrival of a new weather pattern that brought unprecedented warm temperatures and wetter than normal conditions to the Kenai Fjords area. Weather across the country made national news as the Midwest and East Coast experienced continuous extreme cold temperatures while Alaska thawed. Despite the variability and broad geographical range of these events, the occurrences are understood to be connected by undulations of the jet stream responding to changes to the polar vortex (see the fourth bullet below for links to articles that discuss these topics further). These extreme weather events highlight questions regarding the relationship between climate change impacts in the Arctic and weather extremes in the mid-latitudes.
Locally it was evident that temperatures were unusually warm, particularly at the end of the month. Four new daily record high temperatures were recorded at the Seward airport on January 20, 26, 27, and 28 (50, 52, 61, and 43 degrees F, respectively) and two days, January 1 and 23, tied the previous daily record high temperatures (44 and 46 degrees F, respectively). The highest daily temperature of the month, 61 degrees F recorded on January 27th, not only set a new record for the day but it was the warmest temperature ever recorded at the Seward airport during the month of January, replacing the previous high maximum daily temperature of 55 degrees F recorded in January 2005. Despite the high temperatures, Seward did not set a new monthly average temperature in January. 1977 still holds the record for the warmest January in Seward when the average monthly temperature was 37.4 degrees F, in comparison to January 2014’s monthly average of 35.8 degrees F. January’s above-average temperatures were accompanied by above-average precipitation that fell mostly as rain at lower elevations. This melted away the shallow snowpack that had accumulated earlier in the season and left areas at sea level mostly snow-free and higher elevations with a below-average snowpack.
As recorded at the Seward airport, total precipitation was 12.38 inches (153% of normal), 4.31 inches above the 30-year average (1981-2010) for the month. The monthly average temperature for January was 35.8 degrees F; 8.7 degrees F abovethe 30-year average. In general, winds were calm throughout the month with a maximum daily average wind speed of 14.4 mph recorded on January 31st. A maximum wind gust of 44 mph was recorded on January 1st.
Also of note:
- The National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center’s three month weather outlook (February-March-April)favors below-normal temperatures and normal precipitation for the Kenai Fjords area.
- Check out NOAA’s Climate.gov website for a discussion of Alaska’s warm January temperatures and departures from normal.
- NASA’s Earth Observatory also reports on Alaska’s record-breaking warmth and displays land surface temperature anomalies as well as an image from 1/25/2014 that shows sediment runoff into the Gulf of Alaska, an image that is more typical of spring (not mid-winter) conditions.
- NOAA explains the polar vortex, its relationship to the Arctic Oscillation, and its influence on the extreme weather experienced around the country in January.
- University of Waterloo researchers studying impacts of climate change on the winter Olympics find that only 11 of the previous 19 sites could host the winter Games in the coming decades.
- NOAA climate services portal serves as a single point-of-entry for NOAA’s extensive climate information, data, products, services, and the climate science magazine ClimateWatch.
Read more to find out about the local climate for January 2014