July snow in the Bering Strait

July snow in the Bering Strait
An unusually frigid ball of air is spinning through the Bering Strait region, bringing rare July snowfall, high surf advisories in the Norton Sound and wind gusts up to 48 mph in Nome.

"These kinds of things spin around the higher latitudes all year long," said Rick Thoman, Alaska climate specialist at the International Arctic Research Center at UAF. "Usually, this cold would stay farther north. If this was happening on the North Slope, it would be chilly but nothing particularly to write home about. The fact that it's moved so far south is really the news here."

Looking through climate records, Thoman said this airmass will be the coldest one seen during the month of July in the past 70 years.

"I would chalk this particular storm up to one of those random variabilities that are going to happen from time to time, even in a warming climate," he said.

July snow in the Bering Strait

July snow in the Bering Strait
The National Weather Service issued a high surf advisory through Tuesday at noon for the Norton Sound region, including Nome, White Mountain, Golovin, Unalakleet, Stebbins, St. Michael, Elim, Koyuk and Shaktoolik. The agency warned these areas could expect to see waves washing to the top of beaches and minor erosion.

As the low-pressure area spun near Diomede Monday afternoon, wind at the Nome Airport reached 48 mph. Such a speed might be expected for a November storm, but Thoman said gusts of that force have not been seen in the month of July since the start of regular wind gust records in the area, in the mid-1980s.

Pictures posted to social media showed that snow had already fallen on the Diomede islands, Ear Mountain near Shishmaref and mountains near Dexter and Banner Creek. Thoman said he would not be surprised if downtown Nome saw snow overnight Monday, which would be an exceedingly rare event. He could not find a record of July snow, excluding hail from thunderstorms, in Nome's whole climate record, which stretches back more than a century.

He wanted to stress that this bout of cold and gusty weather does not mean that winter is imminent. "It's very likely we'll have more warm weather, and this does not mean that fall is here," Thoman said.

The turn in weather may, however, mean that Nome won't see any more wildfire smoke from blazes in the rest of Alaska this summer.

By the time the weather changes again, we'll be "beyond the period when fires really can take off unless something extraordinary happens," Thoman said. Any other smoky days that occur in Nome this summer are more likely to be caused by tundra fires across the Bering Sea.

"At this time of year, the Nome area could see smoke aloft from fires in Siberia, which are ramping up right now," Thoman said. "It's been comparatively quiet over central Siberia as far as wildfires this summer, but they are increasing now. It's certainly possible in early August to have smoke coming up from Siberia. But there's probably no chance of a repeat of what we saw on July 1." On that day, Nomeites awoke to find that a hazardously dense, smoky fog had drifted into town from fires burning more than 400 miles away, north of Alaska's Lake Iliamna.