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Wet Hot Alaskan Summer: Homer and Southcentral experiencing record dry then record wet conditions

Alaska Climate Research Center, UAF
August 2022 precipitation amounts throughout Alaska

If you’re noticing unusual weather patterns lately you're not alone.

August saw record rainfall in Southcentral Alaska and on the Kenai Peninsula. Before that, the area experienced an abnormally dry summer.

Rick Thoman, climate specialist with the International Arctic Research Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, studies weather patterns throughout the state.

“Looks like there's never been anything this dramatic in the climate record for Southcentral Alaska and the Kenai Peninsula,” Thoman said. “There's certainly been times that it's been dry followed by wet, but nothing of this record dry to record smashing wet, just like that.”

These weather patterns have had ripple effects throughout Alaska, according to Thoman. He said the unusually dry weather contributed to some of the early-summer fires in Southwestern Alaska and in the Interior. The fires in the Y-K Delta were some of the largest fires the region has experienced.

Then around mid-July something shifted, especially in the area south of the Matanuska Valley. It started raining and it hasn’t really stopped. Thoman called the shift from extreme dry to extreme wet conditions throughout the state “remarkable.” And in Homer this extreme dry-to-wet pattern has exceeded monthly records.

“It was the driest May plus June on record,” Thoman said. “And then the second week in July, the weather pattern just changed dramatically. And that was widely across the Kenai Peninsula and Southcentral, that dramatic flip flop.”

Homer experienced less than a quarter inch of rain recorded in May and June. The combined total was the lowest on record at a total of 0.28 inches during the two months. Fast forward to mid-July, and residents began seeing rains that rarely cleared.

Weather stations documented close to six inches of rainfall in Homer during the month of August. That’s almost a half inch more than the record set in 1939. Anchorage also saw its third wettest August on record at 6.8 inches, which is about four inches higher than the average. The city is on pace to have its wettest year ever, according to Thoman.

Farther south, Juneau is experiencing its highest precipitation levels for the calendar year, to date. Thoman said the community’s typically rainy season hasn’t even begun yet.

But why is this happening?

“That's the million-dollar question,” Thoman said.

While storms generally pass through the Bering Sea this time of the year, Thoman said this summer, the storm tracks have mostly been through the Western Gulf of Alaska. And that’s unusual.

“Sometimes you get individual storms that will track that way in the summer, but not as a sustained pattern. That's what's made this year so remarkable,” Thoman said.

He said there’s no evidence that the heavy rainfall will continue throughout the fall months on the Kenai Peninsula.

It would take 20 more inches of rain this year to exceed the yearly record rainfall for Homer, according to Thoman. While he said that’s unlikely, it certainly could wind up being one of the top ten wettest years for the community on record.

Originally from the Blue Ridge Mountains of Southwest Virginia, Desiree has called Alaska ‘home’ for almost two decades. Her involvement in radio began over 10 years, first as a volunteer DJ at KBBI, later as a host and producer, and now in her current role as a reporter. Her passions include stories relating to agriculture, food systems and rural issues. In her spare time, she can often be found riding her bicycle, creating art from handmade paper, or working in the garden.
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