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Alaskans put away jackets, get out sunscreen amid heat wave


    Milana Acuna, 5, makes a mud creation at the beach at Goose Lake as her father, Manny Acuna, looks on at Jewel Lake in Anchorage, Alaska.

ANCHORAGE, Alaska >> Alaskans who routinely pack knit caps and fleece jackets in summer today were swapping them for sunscreen and parasols amid a prolonged heat wave.

Residents of Anchorage and other south-central cities completed a fifth week of above-normal temperatures, including a record high 90 degrees (32.22 Celsius) on Thursday in the state’s largest city.

Today, as temperatures dipped just slightly, Anchorage resident Lucy Davidson sought relief with her grandchildren at a beach at Goose Lake. She said she picked up a portable air conditioner at a garage sale six years ago. It had not been used some summers, but it’s getting a workout lately.

“That thing has been a blessing,” Davidson said. “It stays on non-stop.”

The temperature Thursday in Anchorage hit 90 degrees (32.22 Celsius) at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, 5 degrees higher than the city’s previous recorded high of 85 degrees (29.44 Celsius).

Three other Alaska locations, Kenai, Palmer and King Salmon, set or tied all-time high temperature records on Thursday.

A high pressure ridge over much of south-central Alaska is strengthening and responsible for the record temperatures, National Weather Service meteorologist Bob Clay said. Anchorage’s average high temperature for July 4 is 75 degrees (23.89 Celsius), Clay said.

Temperatures have been in the 70s for all but one day since June 23, National Weather Service meteorologist Michelle McAuley said.

Anchorage experienced its wettest May ever but was warmer than normal every day in June, she said. The high pressure system is expected at least through Monday, she said.

Anchorage gardeners who can’t grow a tomato without a greenhouse are loving the high temperatures. Others are experiencing flashbacks to where they used to live.

“My home doesn’t have AC like most homes here in Anchorage, and it’s pretty miserable,” said Manny Acuna, who moved north nine years ago with the Air Force. “That’s a lot coming from me because I’m originally from Las Vegas.”

Shawn King has lived his entire 31 years in Anchorage and has never seen a stretch of similar hot weather, he said. He used the occasion to take his 4-year-old daughter, Tessa, fishing for the first time on the dock of Jewel Lake. She insisted on going barefoot.

“It’s too hot for shoes,” Tessa said.

Visitors bracing for cooler temperatures were surprised to find out they would not need parkas.

“We didn’t pack clothes for this,” Judy Zickmund, who arrived in Anchorage after stepping off a cruise ship this morning in Seward with her husband, David. “We had gone on the internet, and they said it usually runs about 65, 70 (degrees). But this has been wonderful, coming to Anchorage. The whole cruise was warmer than normal.”

Rick Thoman, a climate specialist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy, said the record high is both a weather story and part of the ongoing changing environment story.

“These kinds of extreme weather events become much more likely in a warming world,” Thoman said.

High ocean temperatures have played a role in keeping Alaska warm, he said.

“Surface temperatures are above normal everywhere around Alaska,” Thoman said. “The entire Gulf of Alaska, in the Bering Sea, in the Chukchi Sea south of the ice edge, exceptionally warm waters, warmest on record, and of course record-low sea ice extent for this time of year off the north and northwest coasts of the state.”

Even with her air conditioner running full blast, Davidson said, she can’t get the temperature inside her home below 82 degrees.

“If it wasn’t so expensive, I’d buy one of those big outdoor pools,” she said.

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