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Summer 2021 wraps up with new weather records

Summer Weather In Alaska
Summer Weather In Alaska(Julie Swisher/KTVF)
Published: Oct. 12, 2021 at 9:47 AM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - Summers are short and sweet in Interior Alaska and as we turn the corner into colder winter days, let’s recap some of the 2021 weather highlights.

Jonathan Chriest, a meteorologist for the Fairbanks National Weather Service, says this past summer had a few stand out moments.

“For Fairbanks, this was the 4th longest growing season on record, according to temperatures taken at the airport, and the length of time it did not drop below freezing was 135 days,” he said.

Chriest said another fact of note was the summer fires. For the Fairbanks area, notable fires included the Haystack Fire, the Munson Creek Fire as well as the Yankovich Road Fire just behind the University of Alaska Fairbanks. While those fires were close to Fairbanks, and gave us some smoke, overall this was not a big fire season.

Chriest says we still burned less than half the median number of Alaska as a whole. “What makes a big fire season is a lot of different things,” he explained. “This summer we did have some thunderstorms, we did have some warm temperatures, we just didn’t end up having a large fire season.”

In Fairbanks, we had twenty-one 80° days which Chriest said is uncommon. In the summer of 2020, there were only 3 days where the temperature went above that mark.

“So that was a significant increase over last summer. The normal is about 11, so we did have a significant number of 80° days,” he said.

Chriest also noted that July was a very warm month. August saw the first five days being the warmest five days on record. “That’s when we had that big heat wave where we got to 89° that one day here in Fairbanks,” he said.

The end of August, however, was cool and wet, and September was very cool and dry. We only had 25% of the normal precipitation in September, then at the end of that month we had our first snowfall.

“We had a high temperature of 31° on September 29, which was the first time that we have had a high temperature below freezing in September since 1992,” said Chriest, also noting it got cool fast this summer.

When it came to rainfall, Fairbanks landed on the dry side this summer. Chriest says in terms of temperatures, we had a warm July and beginning of August followed by a cooler latter part of August and September. He said we “kind of split it into the tale of two halves this summer,.”

Chriest also mentioned that the Chuckchi Sea Ice extent west of the Arctic Coast was the highest sea ice extent on record in August since 2006. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, sea ice extent is defined as the area of ocean where at least 15% of the surface is frozen. “So a much better year,” he said. “It’s not close to the normal, in long terms of normal, in terms of sea ice, but a much better year for sea ice over the summer in the Chuckchi Sea,” he said.

Despite all the records we encountered so far this year, 2021 is not over.

Chriest says what we can expect moving forward over the next three months are equal chances for above normal and below normal temperatures, as well as equal chances for above normal and below normal precipitation.

However, he did mention that towards the end of the winter months, we are likely to be entering into a La Niña pattern. He says this is favorable for an above-normal precipitation pattern for the Interior of Alaska.

Chriest also said the North Slope had an interesting summer. Deadhorse recorded ten 70° or higher days this summer, which was the most since 1994.

When asked what his favorite part of summer 2021 was Chriest said, “My favorite thing I did this summer was float the Yukon River from Eagle to Circle in a pack raft. We had excellent weather. We had only about two hours of rain the whole 160 mile trip, so that was an excellent way to get out and enjoy the interior summer.”

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