On Monday afternoon, the small Alaska town of Talkeetna hit an all-time high temperature of 96 degrees F (35.5 C.) The entire state is recording temperatures unprecedented in history, with half the state recording high temperatures 25 degrees F over typical high temps for this time of the year.
Talkeetna is a small town about 100 miles north of Anchorage and 50 miles southeast of Denali, the tallest mountain in North America. Its population is about 800 people, and due to its location near the base of Denali, it has a reputation as a sporting and wilderness town. It is thought to have been the inspiration for the fictional town of Cicely, Alaska, of Northern Exposure fame.
While the rivers that feed the area mean that Talkeetna itself is not built on permafrost, extensive areas of permafrost are found within a few miles of the town, and the ecology of the area 20 miles outside of Talkeetna in all directions, except due south, is defined by stable permafrost. Here's a permafrost map of Alaska, showing coastal AK being permafrost free and concentrations of permafrost increasing as one goes north.
While temperatures in interior Alaska can get into the 80's during the summer, this heat wave is unusual for several reasons. First, the high temperatures have broken records, and not only in one area, but throughout the state. And second, coastal Alaska has a climate that is much more moderate, but even along the coast, high temperatures have risen well above historic norms.
This event is not isolated. Last summer, for the first time since direct observations have been recorded, the entire ice sheet of Greenland melted at the surface.
A couple of points should be made. When climatologists talk about a net increase of 2-3 degrees C in global temperatures are enough to permanently alter the face of the earth, they do not expect these temperature increases to spread equally over the planet. Arctic and Antarctic areas are far more sensitive to temperature change, and are warming far faster than any other part of the planet.
There is a positive feedback involved here. The area around Talkeetna has permanent snow and ice cover. The largest alpine glaciers in the US are located about 30 miles from the town. As they melt and the snow line rises, the land will absorb more heat from the sun. In short, the warmer Alaska gets, the warmer it will get.
And when permafrost melts, it not only damages infrastructure. It also releases methane gas, which contributes far more to global warming than carbon dioxide.
The high temperature in Miami, Florida on Monday was 89 degrees F. In other words, it was 7 degrees colder in Miami than in Talkeetna, 50 miles from Denali in interior Alaska. Climate change is happening far faster than anyone has reasonably predicted.
National Weather Service statement from Valdez: (The ALLCAPS and lacunae are standard NWS conventions.)
EXCITEMENT ABOUNDED THIS AFTERNOON ACROSS NORTHEASTERN PRINCE WILLIAM SOUND AS UNUSUALLY HOT TEMPERATURES WERE FELT ACROSS THE REGION. FOR THE PAST SEVERAL DAYS . . . HIGH TEMPERATURE RECORDS HAVE BEEN TIED OR BROKEN . . . BUT TODAYS TEMPERATURES SOARED BEYOND ANYTHING PREVIOUSLY SEEN IN THIS AREA.
IN VALDEZ . . . THE DAILY HIGH TEMPERATURE RECORD OF 75 DEGREES SET IN 1997 WAS SHATTERED WHEN . . . AT 45 MINUTES AFTER 3 PM...THE MERCURY IN OUR THERMOMETER SHOT UP TO 90 DEGREES. AFTER A BRIEF DIP BACK INTO THE UPPER 80S . . . THE MERCURY AGAIN REGISTERED 90 DEGREES AT 15 MINUTES BEFORE 6 PM.
THIS ALSO CRUSHED THE ALL-TIME RECORD HIGH TEMPERATURE FOR ANY DAY OF THE YEAR . . . AND FOR THE MONTH OF JUNE . . . WHICH WAS 87 DEGREES AND WAS ACHIEVED TWICE . . . ON BOTH THE 25TH AND THE 26TH OF JUNE IN 1953. A LOCAL WEATHER SPOTTER IN TOWN RECORDED A HIGH TEMPERATURE OF 87 DEGREES NEAR THE HOSPITAL DURING THE MID-AFTERNOON HOURS TODAY AS WELL. SUN-WORSHIPERS WERE OUT IN FORCE THROUGH THE MID TO LATE EVENING HOURS . . . AS THE TEMPERATURE AT 10 PM WAS STILL AN ASTOUNDING 77 DEGREES.