Alaska heat wave shatters city’s record, disrupts jobs and lives

People visit a rock outpost at Beluga Point along the Turnagain Arm on July 4, 2019 south of Anchorage, Alaska. Alaska is bracing for record warm temperatures and dry conditions in parts of the state. (Lance King/Getty Images/AFP)
Updated 06 July 2019
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Alaska heat wave shatters city’s record, disrupts jobs and lives

  • Scientists say Alaska is warming at twice the rate of the global average
  • Thawing permafrost is affecting everything from building foundations to wildlife habitats

LOS ANGELES: Temperatures in Alaska’s largest city Anchorage have soared to a sweltering all-time record of 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 Celsius) as a heat wave grips the US state which straddles the Arctic Circle.
Fourth of July fireworks were canceled due to risk of wildfires caused by “extreme dry weather conditions,” as temperatures matching those in Miami highlighted rapid warming in a region considered particularly vulnerable to climate change.
“At 5 p.m. this afternoon, Anchorage International Airport officially hit 90 degrees for the first time on record,” tweeted the National Weather Service (NWS) late Thursday.
The previous record was 85 degrees, set in June 1969.
The average high temperature for July 4 in Anchorage, located in southern Alaska, is a far cooler 65 degrees.
The abnormally warm weather is being caused by a “giant ridge of high pressure sitting right over us,” NWS meteorologist Bill Ludwig told the Anchorage Daily News.
Alaska had earlier broken temperature records throughout a hot spring, particularly in the Arctic zone which is especially sensitive to fluctuations in climate.
All 30 days in June had above-average temperatures, the NWS said.
According to scientists, Alaska is warming at twice the rate of the global average.
“From 1901 to 2016, average temperatures in the mainland United States increased by 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit... whereas in Alaska they increased by 4.7 degrees,” Rick Thoman, a climate specialist at the Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy, told AFP in April.

Arctic ocean warming
The dramatic warming Alaska has experienced in recent years — linked partly to a decline in sea ice and Arctic ocean warming — has wreaked havoc on local communities, wildlife and the state’s economy.
Permafrost — the frozen ground that covers almost 85 percent of Alaska — is thawing, affecting everything from building foundations to wildlife habitats and the picking of berries that grow on the tundra.
Frozen rivers usually serve as transport routes in winter, as two-thirds of communities in the state are not accessible by road.
But higher temperatures have made the ice dangerously thin and unsafe for truck or car travel.
Many recreational sled-dog races have had to be canceled this year, and the famed Iditarod race had to be re-routed as what is normally solid sea ice was open water on part of the race course.
Crab fishing has also been affected as the sea ice that fishermen use as a platform is non-existent or too thin in some areas.
Alaska’s seal population is likely to be affected this summer, as some species give birth on solid ice, Thoman said.
Global warming has led to the lowest ice levels in the Bering Sea — which connects with the Arctic Ocean — since 1850, when sea ice records were first kept, he added.
While it is unprecedented for the mercury to hit 90 degrees in coastal Anchorage, temperatures as high as 100 degrees have been recorded in Alaska’s interior.
The high-pressure system causing the current spike in temperatures is expected to shift north to inland areas in the coming days, with further records likely to be broken, according to AccuWeather.


Firefighters battle wildfire in Portugal, 32 people hurt

Updated 22 July 2019
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Firefighters battle wildfire in Portugal, 32 people hurt

COLOS, Portugal: More than 1,000 firefighters battled a major wildfire Monday amid scorching temperatures in Portugal, where forest blazes wreak destruction every summer.
About 90% of the fire area in the Castelo Branco district, 200 kilometers (about 125 miles) northeast of the capital Lisbon, was brought under control during cooler overnight temperatures, according to local Civil Protection Agency commander Pedro Nunes.
But authorities said they expected heat in and winds to increase again in the afternoon, so all firefighting assets remained in place. Forests in the region are tinder-dry after weeks with little rain.
The Portuguese Civil Protection Agency said 321 vehicles and eight water-dumping aircraft were deployed to tackle the blaze, which has raced through thick woodlands.
Nunes told reporters that the fire, in its third day, has injured 32 people, one seriously.
Police said they were investigating what caused the fire amid suspicions it may have been started deliberately.
Temperatures were forecast to reach almost 40 C (104 F) Monday — prolonging a spell of blistering weather that is due to hit northern Europe late this week.
Recent weeks have also seen major wildfires in Spain, Greece and Germany. European Union authorities have warned that wildfires are “a growing menace” across the continent.
In May, forest fires also plagued Mexico and Russia.
Huge wildfires have long been a summer fixture in Portugal.
Residents of villages and hamlets in central Portugal have grown accustomed to the summer blazes, which destroy fruit trees, olive trees and crops in the fields.
In the hamlet of Colos, 50-year-old beekeeper Antonio Pires said he had lost half of his beehives in the current wildfire. Pires sells to mainly Portuguese and German clients, but also to Brazil and China.
“(I lost) 100 out of 230 (hives), so almost half,” Pires said. “A lot of damage.”
The country’s deadliest fire season came in 2017, when at least 106 people were killed.
The average annual area charred by wildfires in Portugal between 2010 and 2016 was just over 100,000 hectares (247,000 acres). That was more than in Spain, France, Italy or Greece — countries which are significantly bigger than Portugal.
Almost 11,500 firefighters are on standby this year, most of them volunteers. Volunteers are not uncommon in fire brigades in Europe, especially in Germany where more than 90% are volunteers.
Experts and authorities have identified several factors that make Portugal so particularly vulnerable to forest blazes. Addressing some of them is a long-term challenge.
The population of the Portuguese countryside has thinned as people have moved to cities in search of a better life. That means woodland has become neglected, especially as many of those left behind are elderly, and the forest debris is fuel for wildfires.
Large areas of central and northern Portugal are covered in dense, unbroken stretches of forest on hilly terrain. A lot of forest is pine and eucalyptus trees, both of which burn fiercely.
Environmentalists have urged the government to limit the area of eucalyptus, which burns like a torch. But it is a very valuable crop for Portugal’s important paper pulp industry, which last year posted sales worth 2.7 billion euros ($3 billion). The government says it is introducing restrictions gradually.
Experts say Portugal needs to develop a diversified patchwork of different tree species, some of them more fire-resistant and offering damper, shaded.
Climate change has become another challenge, bringing hotter, drier and longer summers. The peak fire season used to run from July 1 to Sept. 30. Now, it starts in June and ends in October.
After the 2017 deaths, the government introduced a raft of measures. They included using goats and bulldozers to clear woodland 10 meters (33 feet) either side of country roads. Property owners also have to clear a 50-meter (164-feet) radius around an isolated house, and 100 meters (328 feet) around a hamlet.
Emergency shelters and evacuation routes have been established at villages and hamlets. Their church bells aim to toll when a wildfire is approaching.
With 98% of blazes caused by human hand, either by accident or on purpose, officials have also been teaching people how to safely burn stubble and forest waste. Police, army and forest service patrols are also increased during the summer.