780 AM | 96.1 FM | “Yours for Western Alaska”

Earliest Snowmelt on Record in Barrow

Barrow Observatory

Snow in the northernmost town in the nation is melting earlier than ever before on record.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Observatory in Barrow reported a snowmelt staring on May 13. That’s 10 days earlier than the previous record set in 2002. NOAA has been recording snowmelt from its Barrow Observatory for over 70 years.

The record melt follows a winter of record-setting temperatures. Alaska was more than 11 degrees warmer that normal this winter.

Baked Alaska

An intensely warm winter and spring are melting climate records across Alaska. The January-April 2016 period was an incredible 11 degrees above normal, setting the stage for a potentially unprecedented summer. Photo: NOAA

This winter didn’t just see an early melt on land. According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, 2016 also saw the lowest winter sea ice extent in satellite history.

David Douglas, a research biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, said in a NOAA press release that conditions in the Arctic are looking more like they would in late June or early July right now.

The early thaw is already taking a toll on wildlife in the far north.

“Polar bears are having to make their decisions about how to move and where to go on thinner ice pack that’s mostly first-year ice,” Douglas said. Douglas also expects walrus to struggle this summer with the thinner sea ice and warmer temperatures.