Parts of Alaska may drop to -40° to -50°F this weekend

The state is still on pace to have its warmest year on record

Morning Lows - Last Weekend of 2019
Morning Lows - Last Weekend of 2019

At one point in the summer, Anchorage, Alaska reached 90° for its first time on record. Now, other parts of the state are preparing for a teeth-chattering blast of cold air this weekend. Some spots like Fairbanks and Bettles will drop to at least 40° below zero.

According to climatologist, Brian Brettschneider, this is something that used to happen more often in cities including (but not limited to) Fairbanks.

Kerrie Simmons is a meteorologist, and recent Virginia Tech graduate, who works at the National Weather Service in Fairbanks. She says the challenge of forecasting there is cloud cover.

“A location could be 15 below and drop to 35 below within a couple hours or so once clouds scatter and clear out.”

Simmons said this, in an email sent to me earlier this morning, and added that places like Bettles, “could range between 45 below to as low as 60 below” by Saturday morning.

Could you imagine that happening here? Before reading on, I thought to myself, “Are people there used to this?”

The next sentence answered it all for me, as Simmons wrote, “To the residents of Alaska in these villages, this is what they are used to. It’s nothing out of the ordinary to them and doesn’t stop everyday life during the winter months.”

She did say, however, that the only mode of transportation in and out of some villages is by plane. Airline activity could get shut down at a temperature of -40° or lower due to ice fog formation.

Those that do drive face the challenge of this colder air, including Simmons herself, as cars are not manufactured to face this magnitude of cold.

This blast of brutal cold serves as a reminder that weather and climate are different. This snap is the weather for the next few days. The overall trend shows that Alaska is still on pace for its warmest year on record.

For many parts of our area, 2019 will likely go down in the top five warmest years on record too. This leads me to how this blast of Alaskan cold might play a role on our weather. You’ll often hear meteorologists and forecasters in the eastern U.S. say to “watch out” about 10 days after these cold spells in Alaska.

It’s kind of like a baseball. If you wind up and throw, chances are it will come out harder than if you were to start the pitch from just your ear. The cold air winds up, bottles up and then spills farther south.

Right now, the jet stream is far north of us. This is what’s helping us to warm up into the 50s and 60s even after some cold mornings.

Jet Stream - 12/28/2019
Jet Stream - 12/28/2019

Any transition from unseasonably warm to winter chill is a gradual process this time. So while we will be tracking a cold front that will allow cooler air to move in by New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, it won’t be brutally cold out. Most of that true, Arctic air is still bottled farther north by New Year’s Day.

January 1, 2020
January 1, 2020

By January 5th, however, forecast data is showing a more pronounced dip in the jet stream. This would allow a piece of that Arctic air to drop into the Lower 48.

January 5, 2020
January 5, 2020

There’s nothing to me, at the moment, that says we’ll be dealing with record cold. However, look for some more true, winter air to come in around/shortly after January 5.

If it does indeed make it this far south, we can tie it back to this weekend’s brutal blast of cold in Alaska.