Thunderstorms move across Chukchi and Beaufort seas

A map of lightning strikes in the Chukchi Sea on July 10,2021. (courtesy of Alaska Interagency Coordination Center)

As our climate changes around us, the unusual is becoming more frequent — whether it’s shorter snow seasons, intense wildfires or more recently, storms and lightning across the Chukchi and Beaufort seas.

Alaska climate specialist Rick Thoman says thunderstorms need a few different ingredients.

“One, they need moisture, and they need a fairly steep decrease in temperature aloft,” he said.

Storms over the oceans aren’t particularly rare, but Thoman says these storms form differently.

“We have very warm, moist air, moving off of Siberia and across the Chukchi and Beaufort seas. And that’s intersecting in this case, in the last few days, a slow moving weather front thats then providing the mechanism to cause that warm, moist air well above the ocean surface,” he said.

As the storms rage on, they bring smoke to parts of northern and western Alaska as well.

“The same winds aloft that have brought this warm, moist air, the smoke is coming with it — and that is all Siberian fires in the interior right now. Everything across the North Slope and out over western Alaska, that is all Siberian smoke, where they have had a lot of wildfire activity this season.”

Thoman says that the likelihood of these storms becoming more frequent in the next couple decades is high and will continue to rise as our climate changes at a rapid pace.

Special thanks to Rashah McChesney & Tripp Crouse for edits

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