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Warm, Wet February In The Aleutians Linked To Warming Ocean Temperatures

Courtesy of Tacho

While much of Alaska has been bitterly cold this month, the Aleutian Islands and Alaska Peninsula have been extraordinarily mild. 

It's part of the recent warming pattern in the Bering Sea, and communities along the Aleutian Chain can expect a similar trend moving forward, says Rick Thoman, a climate specialist with the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

"Because the oceans are warming, and the climate of the Aleutians is so dominated by the oceans — unless the atmosphere does something particularly unusual, we're aiming for a warmer than what used to be considered normal February," Thoman said. 

Much of Interior Alaska has been cooler than normal this month because of cold air coming out of Northwest Canada or down from the High Arctic, he said. But the lower Alaska Peninsula and Aleutians Islands haven't seen a similar trend, and it's shaping up to be one of the mildest Februaries on record for the region.

"There really hasn't been a push of colder air from Siberia across the Bering Sea," Thoman said. "That's how the Aleutians can get their cold weather, and that just has been completely lacking so far in February." 

At Unalaska's Tom Madsen Airport, temperatures haven't dropped below freezing yet this month. And in Cold Bay, the average temperature is running more than eight degrees Fahrenheit above normal, making this the second warmest start to February since World War II. 

"The only warmer start to February was in 2019," he said. "And the third warmest is 2018. So three of the last four years in Cold Bay have been exceptionally mild — far above normal. And that is undoubtedly related to the large scale warming of the oceans that we've seen in recent years." 

In Unalaska, it's also been the rainiest start to February since 2004. So far, the island has recorded more than eight inches of rain this month, with more than a week left to go. The normal February precipitation for Unalaska is six and a half inches.

Hope McKenney is a public radio news director, reporter, producer and host based in the Aleutian Islands, Alaska.
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