Ask a Climatologist: Why is it so cold here when everywhere else is so warm?

The University of Alaska Fairbanks campus on Jan. 18th, 2017. (Photo by Amanda Frank)

It was -50 degrees today in Fairbanks. Anchorage hit -15 degrees. Much of the state is enduring the coldest temperatures in nearly five years.

Brian Brettschneider is a climatologist in Anchorage who closely tracks Alaska climate data and trends. Alaska’s Energy Desk is checking in with him regularly as part of the segment, Ask a Climatologist.

Points in Anchorage and to the north and west are experiencing their coldest spell in about five years.

“The models have been predicting this for the last week or so,” said Brettschneider. “The fly in the ointment has been cloud cover, so when you have clouds move over, especially when you’re talking those kinds of cold temperatures, it can effect the forecast by 25 or so degrees. So one day if you think it’s going to be clear you might predict -40 or 50, but if clouds hang in there it might only be -20 or so.”

An upper level low pressure system containing a lot of cold air is locked into place over western Alaska, creating these conditions.

“We’re kind of under the bulls eye,” he said. “So if you go over to Canada, the lower 48, even Southeast Alaska, they’re on the warm side of this upper level low pressure, so as far as they’re concerned, they’re asking why’s it so warm, while we’re over here to the west asking why’s it so cold.”

Anchorage only sees about two days a year with a high below zero, but hasn’t seen highs this low since January 2012.

“Before that it had been since January of 2009.,” Brettschneider said.  “So these are things that were more common in the past, they’re harder to achieve in this warmer environment that we live in.”

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