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Record-high temperatures set to scorch Alaska to start July

By Zachary Rosenthal, Accuweather.com

Alaska, traditionally one of the coldest states in the country, is set to see an unusually warm start to July thanks to a heat dome parking itself over the region. Temperatures could rise up to 20 degrees F above normal in the northernmost state, with temperatures rising well into the 80s to near 90 degrees.

A heat dome occurs when there is a large poleward shift in the jet stream, which becomes wavy and elongated. In this case, an unusually strong high-pressure system is forcing the jet stream well to the north, allowing warm air to funnel into Alaska from farther south, where temperatures into the 80s are far more common.

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In Fairbanks, Alaska, the temperature is set to hit an abnormally warm 87 degrees F on Saturday, a temperature that exceeds the forecast high in Atlanta, where a comparatively cool 84-degree high is forecast on the same day. A high of 87 would also fall just one degree shy of the July 1 temperature record of 88 degrees, which was set just last year.

"It appears that the heat wave will peak Friday and Saturday across the northern half of the state, including the Fairbanks area, with afternoon temperatures likely climbing into the upper 80s over some of the interior valleys, which will challenge some daily records," AccuWeather senior meteorologist Brett Anderson said, adding that normal highs are typically in the middle 70s.

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The abnormal heat will also help heat an abnormally dry landscape, fueling wildfire growth. In Anchorage, just 7% of the city's normal June rainfall fell, while Fairbanks saw 36% of its typical June rainfall totals.

Wildfires have been burning throughout the state, with a record 1 million acres burned in June alone. Portions of interior Alaska are facing very high fire danger, with 31 fires burning across the state, with widespread smoky conditions possible in parts of the state as the record-challenging heat sets in.

A heat wave in 2019 broke several all-time heat records in Alaska, including in Anchorage and in Bethel.

"This type of pattern will create a strong inversion over portions of the interior, which will trap wildfire smoke and other pollutants close to the ground, leading to reduced air quality and visibility in places like Fairbanks and Denali National Park," Anderson said.

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According to Anderson, climate change is likely playing a role in fueling the unusual warmth. Since 1900, the average temperature in Alaska has increased by 3 degrees Fahrenheit, far above the 1.8-degree increase that the contiguous United States has seen.

In 2019, which became Alaska's hottest year on record, record-high temperatures were set in several Alaskan cities when a heat dome established itself in early July. During that heat wave, temperatures rose high enough to drive some Alaskans, many of whom live without air-conditioning, to wade into and play in local lakes and streams.

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This heat wave is expected to last into next week, with temperatures set to remain well above normal in the state's eastern and southeastern reaches.

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