Melting permafrost is destroying buildings in far north Alaska, worrying residents and scientists.
Alaska, usually frozen until June, has recently been experiencing something of a heatwave. Long-held temperature records have been broken and the winter roads that are made entirely of ice, are melting earlier than usual.
On Saturday, Alaska, the 49th state of the US, was warmer than Arizona. To get this into some perspective, the Arctic Circle runs through Alaska, while Arizona is in the same southwestern US region that contains Death Valley, a place which holds, or shares, the record for the highest air temperature recorded on Earth.
Whilst Fairbanks, Alaska reached 30C on Saturday, Phoenix, Arizona managed a mere 28C. Even Bettles, a town to the north of Fairbanks and within the Arctic Circle, recorded 28C.
On this same day, the small city of Eagle, east of Fairbanks, soared to 33C, the highest temperature ever recorded so early in the calendar year. Between May 16 and May 24, Eagle hit 27C or higher daily – its second longest such streak on record for any time of the year.
The immediate cause of this early year warmth is the persistent high-pressure system over northwestern Canada. This is but one consequence of a developing El Nino in the eastern Pacific. Such a major movement of warm water has worldwide weather effects – drought, flood, heatwave and chill.
As Alaska baked and the lake-crossing sections of its famous “ice road” melted a month early, in the rest of the United States, only Florida was hotter. Texas was enduring repeated heavy rain and a tornado of very rare strength, so far south, formed on the Texas/Mexico border.
Although Alaska has cooled a little and Texas is having a brief respite from incessant rain, the weather pattern has not changed. There will be more heavy rain in Texas and melting warmth in Alaska in the days to come.