Drought increases in Southeast Alaska while July temps break records

Some kids try to beat the heat by selling cold drinks and lounging in a pool on the side walk in downtown Petersburg, Aug. 7. (Photo courtesy of Bennett Mcgrath)

Southeast Alaska has suffered from a drought and warmer-than-normal temperatures for about two years now. The month of July broke more records in the region.

Temperatures for most of Southeast were above normal for July.

Sitka’s July was the warmest on record averaging 3.5 degrees above normal. Yakutat also broke their hottest July on record, at 5.5 degrees above normal.

Juneau nearly broke its record: It was 3.8 degrees above normal, making it the second warmest July.

“The rest of the panhandle was generally above normal as well,” said Brian Bezenek, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Juneau. “We’re looking at from a couple of degrees to as much as five degrees.”

For many places around the region the low temperatures for the month were the highest on record. In other words, it didn’t get as cold at night as usual. That was the case for Petersburg, where the average low was a warm 57 degrees.

“So while your daytime highs may not have been that extreme your overnight lows were much warmer than expected,” Bezenek said.

For Petersburg, the average high temperature was 64 degrees. Overall, July was the 11th warmest on record for Petersburg.

A dried, muddy patch is all that’s left of this muskeg pond near Petersburg during this summer’s drought. (Photo by Joe Viechnicki/KFSK)

As for rain, the whole region was below normal in July. Petersburg got 2.8 inches of rain, which is about half of what is normal.

“Everybody got between about 45% and 80% of the precipitation that was expected so the entire Southeast did not get enough precip really to reach the normal amount,” Bezenek said.

So that means that the Southeast drought continues. Actually, the drought status has increased for the northern panhandle to the level of “moderate drought” and parts of southern Southeast remain in “extreme drought”.

Overall, Bezenek says all of Southeast is short on water.

“The thing to remember with droughts here is, you know, it’s going to take several seasons — and I mean wet seasons — to recover from this,” he said. “Just having one or two good heavy rainfalls is really not going to alleviate the drought.”

Unfortunately, the forecast doesn’t look to be solving the problem any time soon. The National Weather Service predicts temperatures to be above normal and precipitation below normal to normal for the next three months.

“And that’s looking like it might be the trend for the rest of the year,” Bezenek said.

The long-term effects of the drought are not known. Currently, some fishermen worry that the lack of water won’t be good for salmon reaching their spawning grounds.

Ohmer Creek south of Petersburg on Mitkof Island shows signs of low water in July. The creek usually brings in a variety of salmon to spawn. (Photo by Joe Viechnicki/KFSK)

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