Baked Alaska: heat wave is no dessert

Winnipeg Free Press - Section F - - TRAVEL - By Rachel D’Oro

AN­CHOR­AGE, Alaska — Any­one vis­it­ing Alaska this week would be wise to pack plenty of shorts and T-shirts. The far-north state is swel­ter­ing un­der un­usu­ally hot, dry weather that has bro­ken records and in­ten­si­fied con­di­tions fu­el­ing two large wild­fires.

The tin­der­box set­ting got an early start dur­ing a warm win­ter with com­pa­ra­bly lit­tle snow. Here’s a brief primer on this sum­mer’s baked Alaska:

How hot is it?

Sum­mers can get warm even in Alaska, but this week’s tem­per­a­tures have set records.

An­chor­age, for ex­am­ple, had a record high of 83 de­grees Tues­day, top­ping the old record of 82 set in 1969. The nor­mal high for Alaska’s largest city this time of year is in the low 60s, Na­tional Weather Ser­vice me­te­o­rol­o­gist Dave Snider said.

And the heat is wide­spread. The Alaska pan­han­dle town of Sitka, some 600 miles south­east of An­chor­age, on Tues­day recorded a high of 77, break­ing the 65-year-old record of 71.

What’s caus­ing the heat?

A strong, sta­ble re­gion of air is sit­ting over Alaska, Snider said.

“We’re out of reach of any storm-mak­ing pat­tern right now, al­low­ing Alaska to kind of sit on slow bake,” he said.

What else is dif­fer­ent?

A rel­a­tive lack of snow­fall over much of Alaska also has set this year apart in terms of dry­ness.

For ex­am­ple, An­chor­age re­ceived 25.1 inches of snow, com­pared with the nor­mal 74.5 inches. Un­less it gets another 5.3 inches of snow be­tween now and June 30, the city of­fi­cially will ex­pe­ri­ence its low­est snow­fall on record.

The pre­vi­ous low for a win­ter sea­son was 30.4 inches set in 1957-58.

It was only a few years back, in win­ter 201112, that An­chor­age saw the heav­i­est snow­fall on record, with 134.5 inches.

Primed for burn­ing?

The lack of snow has meant less mois­ture to melt into the ground dur­ing the spring thaw, re­sult­ing in ab­nor­mally dry con­di­tions at the start of fire sea­son.

On top of that, rel­a­tive hu­mid­ity plum­mets as tem­per­a­tures heat up, es­ca­lat­ing the risk of forests ig­nit­ing like torches from light­ning or camp­fires.

“That re­ally is a big player right now,” Snider said.

Two wild­fires burn­ing north and south of An­chor­age al­ready have crews scram­bling to pro­tect ru­ral homes and cab­ins.

In ad­di­tion, half the state is un­der a red-flag warn­ing through early Wed­nes­day. That sig­ni­fies what the weather ser­vice con­sid­ers crit­i­cal fire con­di­tions, which can in­clude a com­bi­na­tion of wind, low hu­mid­ity and light­ning from thun­der­storms car­ry­ing lit­tle mois­ture.

Is there other fall­out?

The ris­ing tem­per­a­tures have led to an in­crease in re­ports of pets left in hot cars, with 24 such calls made in An­chor­age be­tween Satur­day and Mon­day. Last year, there was one com­plaint for the same pe­riod, said Laura At­wood, a city an­i­mal con­trol spokes­woman.

Beat­ing the heat can be tough in Alaska since most build­ings lack air con­di­tion­ing and much of the coast is in­ac­ces­si­ble. An­chor­age, for one, is sur­rounded by mud flats along its shore­line.

But An­chor­age old-timer Jeff Martz wasn’t com­plain­ing Tues­day as he en­joyed the sun­shine at a lo­cal park with his grand­daugh­ter, Aria Flani­gan. As far as Martz was con­cerned, it was a nice change from the past sev­eral sum­mers, which stood out to him as hav­ing a good share of rain.

“It’s warmer than usual, of course, but I think it’s great,” he said.

BOB HALLINEN / AN­CHOR­AGE DAILY NEWS FILES

A sun­bather soaks up the rays as a plane pre­pares to land at the An­chor­age air­port. While the Alaskan heat wave is welcome by some, it’s caus­ing prob­lems across the state.

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