Record precipitation for King Salmon as winter temperatures flip-flop
King Salmon tied its fifth warmest February on record, and the average temperature there was about 8 degrees above normal.
After a long, cold, snowy winter, Bristol Bay has experienced a wave of warm weather over the past couple of weeks.
University of Alaska Fairbanks Climate Specialist Rick Thoman said that has been a pattern for the region — and the state.
“It started off November with record cold in the Bristol Bay region, and since then we’ve flipped and flopped between more deep cold and warm, wild, wet weather,” he said.
That flip-flop is especially apparent in the community of King Salmon, which saw both below average temperatures and record highs. In the first half of February, King Salmon saw three days that were more than 15 degrees colder than normal.
On Feb. 24, King Salmon’s high temperature of 47 degrees Fahrenheit tied the record high for that day, which was set in 2003. King Salmon also tied its fifth warmest February on record, and the average temperature was about 8 degrees above normal.
Thoman said a persistent southerly wind across Bristol Bay was responsible for the mid-to-late February heat wave.
“Storms moving to the west of the region, pumping in warm air from the south," he explained. "And in places where you get the extra effect of that southerly flow by moving that air across the mountains, places like King Salmon, even warmer, and warm enough at night — temperatures above freezing — to melt out the snow pack.”
King Salmon also received the most winter precipitation on record, with more than 7 inches of rain and melted snow from December through February. The average is four inches lower. That’s almost an inch more than the previous record of 6.38 inches set in the winter of 2012-13.
To the west, Aleknagik got more than a foot of precipitation before its gauge failed on Feb. 12. Thoman said it's not clear why it broke, but he suspects it was overwhelmed with snow. That area usually gets far more precipitation than King Salmon because of the mountainous terrain there.
The southern air flow has caused a lot of ice loss in the Bering Sea and across Bristol Bay.
“As we clear that ice, now that the sun is getting higher in the sky and starting to provide some real heating, we will start to see the water temperatures start to increase earlier than some years — not earlier than many recent years, of course," he said. "So the timing of this warm weather, and in some areas melt out, could well be significant as we move through the spring.”
As warm as February was in King Salmon, it was even warmer farther down the Alaska Peninsula: In Port Heiden, the average temperature for February was a whopping 9 degrees above normal.
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