The long hot summer…in Alaska


Once every few weeks or so, it’s a good idea to remind yourself that man-made global warming isn’t just some abstract idea supported by nearly 100 percent of the world’s climate scientists (even if the idea is, of course, supported by nearly 100 percent of the world’s climate scientists.) The reality is that all over the world, in many different ways, climate change is happening right this moment. One example: Not long ago, I wrote about Isle de Jean Charles in my home state of Louisiana, where residents recently received a $48 million grant to relocate because of rising sea levels in the Gulf of Mexico. That’s not an isolated incident, unfortunately.

This year, the citizens of Alaska have been enjoying an unexpectedly long, hot summer. Even on the North Slope of the state, which borders the Arctic Ocean, residents have been enjoying the kind of 80-degree beach days you might expect to find in the south of France this time of year. Here’s more on some of the temperature records that aren’t just falling, but which are getting shattered, across America’s northernmost frontier:

Anchorage just recorded its hottest month ever, amid a statewide July warm spell that saw temperature extremes from Southeast all the way to Deadhorse.

That’s according to National Weather Service meteorologists, who said on Facebook Tuesday that temperatures last month were searing throughout southern Alaska — Kenai also had its hottest month on record, while Homer and Sitka both posted their warmest July ever.

“Most other long-term climate observations locations in southwest Alaska reported the second-warmest July,” meteorologists wrote. Two spots on the North Slope saw their warmest single days on record as well, with the Deadhorse Airport hitting 85 degrees on July 13 and Kuparuk reaching 86 degrees on July 14.

Climate scientists said the warmth is due, in part, to above-average sea temperatures. “All around Alaska, sea surface temperatures are much warmer than normal,” said Rick Thoman, climate science and services manager for the NWS Alaska Region. “In the Bering Sea, especially south of St. Lawrence Island or so, they’re really outrageously warm compared to normal.”

Yet some central regions of Alaska saw record rainfall, which actually isn’t surprising since excessive heat and warm ocean waters tends to cause more moisture in the atmosphere, which of course leads to more powerful storms. Meanwhile, the storms, the heat and the rising sea levels are beginning to cause coastal villages in Alaska — just like Louisiana’s Isle de Jean Charles — to start disappearing from the map:

 ANCHORAGE, Alaska — A tiny island village on Alaska’s storm-battered western coast is entering a new chapter in its decades-long pursuit to move the entire community from its badly eroding shores to safer ground.

The Inupiat Eskimo community of Shishmaref will hold a special election next month asking residents if they should develop a new community at a nearby location on the mainland or stay put with added protections, such expanding a seawall that has never been completed.

The culprit, of course, is global warming:

Doing nothing is not an option,” Shishmaref Mayor Howard Weyiouanna Sr. said.

But even as government funding becomes increasingly difficult to obtain, erosion continues to eat away at the shoreline, toppling at least two houses as it comes ever closer to other homes. Erosion there and other coastal communities is an escalating problem blamed on climate change that has affected storm patterns in the region. Shishmaref, built on a narrow island just north of the Bering Strait, has been identified as one of Alaska’s most eroded communities and among those that expect to ultimately require relocation.

In spite of the pounding drumbeat of evidence that climate change is a pressing problem right now, Washington will continue to implement only piecemeal solutions, at best, unless we see a landslide at the polls this November and elect a radically different Congress. And right now, the communities bearing the brunt of global warming are mostly small and don’t have a lot of political clout. But we need wiser heads who’ll act before the next articles about vanishing homes start coming out of New Orleans or Miami Beach or New York City.

Read local coverage about the record high temperatures in Anchorage and elsewhere:

Here’s more from the Washington Post about eroding villages on Alaska’s coast:

Learn more about the need for worldwide action on fossil fuels in my new book, Crude Justice: How I Fought Big Oil and Won, and What You Should Know About the New Environmental Attack on America

© Stuart H. Smith, LLC 2015 – All Rights Reserved

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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