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Southeast Alaska experiences first recorded extreme drought

May 27, 2019

FAIRBANKS, Alaska (AP) — The wettest region in Alaska is experiencing the first extreme drought recorded by the U.S. Drought Monitor, officials said.

Scientists say the southernmost portion of Southeast Alaska has been in a drought for the last two years, The Anchorage Daily News reported Sunday.

The drought was upgraded last week to an extreme, or D3, drought, according to climatologists at the Fairbanks-based Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy.

The designation is the second-highest category measured by the U.S. Drought Monitor — a national map updated weekly — and the first time that mark has been recorded in Alaska, officials said.

The extreme drought area includes Ketchikan, Prince of Wales Island, Wrangell, and Metlakatla, officials said.

Areas experiencing lesser “severe” and “moderate” droughts have also expanded.

Droughts are different in the rainforest climate of Southeast Alaska than in other global locations, but precipitation is still drastically less than normal, said climatologist Rick Thoman.

Ketchikan has averaged about 100 inches (254 centimeters) annually since 2017 and Metlakatla has had between 80 and 90 inches (203 and 229 centimeters.)

“In the mass amount of the world that would be an immense amount of rain,” Thoman said.

Storm paths have been a significant drought factor within the past two years by moving west toward the Bering Sea or south toward the Pacific Northwest, taking rain and snow with them, Thoman said.

While this is the first extreme drought classification in Alaska, it is likely not the first in the region. Similar deficits were measured in the early 1990s, before the U.S. Drought Monitor was established, he said.

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Information from: Anchorage Daily News, http://www.adn.com

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