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Unalaska sets new record for warmest Christmas Day in Alaska

Hope McKenney
Temperatures in Unalaska soared to 56 degrees on Saturday. That topped the prior Christmas Day record of 55 degrees set in the Southeast Alaska community of Metlakatla in 2009.

Unalaska has set a new record for the warmest Christmas in Alaska.

Temperatures in the island community soared to 56 degrees on Saturday. That broke the prior Christmas Day record of 55 degrees set in the Southeast Alaska community of Metlakatla in 2009, according to climatologist Rick Thoman, who works for the Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

There’s no record of a warmer Christmas in Alaska than 56 degrees, he said, and there’s been climate stations keeping track for at least a century.

“We can probably say it’s the warmest [Christmas] in at least a century, and realistically, more like 110, maybe 120 years,” Thoman said.

The balmy Christmas Day is a continuation of a warm weather pattern, said Thoman. Monday marked the eighth day this month that Unalaska has been over 50 degrees.

Meanwhile, other Alaska communities also experienced unusual weather over the holiday weekend. Places like Kodiak had record high temperatures, while Fairbanks got swamped by a powerful rain and snow storm.

Thoman said it’s all linked to a massive high pressure system over the Gulf of Alaska. It’s among the biggest high pressure systems ever recorded in that part of the world for this time of year, and it made warm winds blow clockwise across the Aleutians, he said.

“In this case, there is a direct connection from just west of Hawaii, straight north, across the Aleutians into the Bering Sea,” he said. “And then that warm, moist, tropical air turns the corner and heads due eastward across mainland Alaska.”

In Interior Alaska, Thoman said, the system is producing a storm like the area hasn’t seen in nearly a century. The rain and snow caused massive power outages and closed down highways in the Fairbanks area over the weekend and the storm picked back up again Tuesday.

“The amount of moisture that came north with this most recent push – there's really nothing like it probably since the mid-1930s in the climate record,” Thoman said.

Kodiak also broke the all-time state record for warmest day in all of December this weekend, coming in at 67 degrees on Sunday.

But much of Southeast Alaska is colder than normal. The temperature sank to zero in Ketchikan on Christmas weekend – the first time it's been that cold in the community in December since 1977, Thoman said.

As the climate continues to warm, he said, Alaskans will likely keep experiencing these abnormal weather patterns and temperatures.

“In a warming environment, warmer ocean temperatures are going to have more moisture. And, you know, we put the thumb on the scales for these kinds of events,” Thoman said.

Hope McKenney reported for KUCB from 2019 until 2022. She was KUCB's news director starting in 2021.
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