Late spring in Alaska •

Last update: October 16th, 2019 at 10:05 am

Late spring in Alaska is a time of rapid change, when the state shrugs off winter’s snow as the snowmelt and rain brings green to the landscape. The winter of 2015-2016, however, has been both warm and dry across most of the state, setting the stage for an early snowmelt. NOAA’s Barrow, Alaska Observatory, located at the northernmost point of the United States, reported snowmelt on May 13 – the earliest snowmelt date in 73 years,beating the previous early melt record, which was set in 2002, by 10 days.

The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard NASA’s Aqua satellite captured this true-color image of Alaska on May 28, 2016.

Snow covers the tops of the highest mountains: the Brooks Range (north), the Alaska Range (southeast), the northern Aleutian Range (south) and some of the Kuskokwim Mountains in the southwest. The dark green of the boreal forest colors the inland regions and lighter green indicates sparser vegetation, likely much of it fresh spring growth. Sea ice, which also is melting early, has pulled away from the shoreline and appears broken and thin.

Near the center of the image, the green boreal forests are smudged with charcoal gray. These are burn scars from devastating fires that burned in that area in 2015. Wildfires consumed more than 5.2 million acres (2.1 million hectares) in Alaska that year, making 2015 the second most severe wildfire season Alaska has experienced since 1950. Fires have started burning in sections of Alaska in 2016. On June 6, the Alaska Wildland Fire Information website reported that one fire burning in western Alaska on that date had already burned 3,200 acres.


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