Crazy Alaska Weather Swings from Ice to Fire

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Mt. McKinley in Alaska's Denali National Park on the morning of June 18, 2013, seen from a Federal Aviation Administration weather webcam.
FAA

In Alaska, houses are built to keep warm air in and cold air out, not the other way around. So with a record-setting heat wave scorching the state, residents are sweltering amidst temperatures soaring past 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius).

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DCI

Southcentral Alaska hit four all-time highs on Monday (June 17), ranging between 88 F (31 C) in Seward to 94 F (34 C) in Talkeetna, according to the National Weather Service's Alaska forecast office. In the southeastern portion of the state, Skagway, a popular cruise ship port-of-call, reached 83 F (28 C), almost as warm as St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands. Just about every part of the state was warmer than average yesterday, the NWS said.

The blazing hot temperatures are just the latest records to fall this year in Alaska. Residents also endured history-making cold temperatures throughout spring and flooding and evacuations caused by the never-ending winter. A mass of Arctic air stuck over the state for weeks this spring was responsible for the chilly weather. It finally fell prey to the warming effects of 18 hours of sunlight at the end of May. (The 9 Hottest Places on Earth)

"Eventually, the sun is going to win out, and once it did, boy, did things change in a hurry," said Michael Lawson, a meteorologist with the NWS Alaska forecast office in Anchorage.

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Marine layer loses

While Interior Alaska and towns near the Alaska Range regularly see high temperatures in the summer, extreme heat rarely flares up in Alaska's coastal communities, which are cooled by marine breezes. But a high-pressure ridge parked over Southcentral Alaska is pushing refreshing afternoon sea breezes offshore.

A similar predicament often develops in Southern California, when a high-pressure system keeps the Catalina Eddy offshore, firing up heat waves in beach towns that depend on fog and ocean air for natural air-conditioning.

"It's really much rarer for places in Southcentral Alaska to get as hot as they've been getting," Lawson told LiveScience. "This ridge has been so strong the sea breeze hasn't been getting a chance to cool us down."

The heat wave will continue for the rest of the week, the NWS forecasts. The unusually strong, high-pressure system is intensifying over mainland Alaska, continuing the heat wave. Interior and Southwest Alaska will reach upwards of 90 F (32 C), and Southeast and Southcentral Alaska will see highs in the upper 70s and 80s F (between about 21 and 26 C).

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