Welcome to the future

Alaska is hot, welcome to the future. It might be time for snowbirds to rethink their second home or retirement condo in Florida. The world is hot and getting hotter, and while Alaska is leading the way, I’d like to illuminate the bright side of global warming. Consider home gardening. In the 1970s, Anchorage was a terrible place to grow tomatoes. Now, you can harvest your own tomatoes and even okra—unthinkable even in the 1990s—in Alaska. Robins once migrated south to warmer climes in the fall (just like many Alaskans), but now they overwinter in Homer. Fireweed blooms no longer reliably predict the first freeze. Red fox have been moving north and taking over the territory of arctic fox. Heck, even the bears in Kodiak didn’t hibernate until late December last year, before announcing it was spring by emerging in early March. If the reactions of our northern flora and fauna still leave you skeptical about how hospitable the weather has become in Alaska, here’s some historical hard data: Over the last 70 years, the average number of frost-free days in Anchorage increased by 17 days. That’s significant in terms of shorter winters and longer grow seasons. 

It’s true and somewhat alarming that temps in Alaska, as well as the rest of the northern latitudes, are rising at a faster rate than those in the Lower 48. Our state shows the effects of climate change first. But Alaska has a little more wiggle room. Stay with me, here. Instead of the reliable 50-degree summers in 1980s Alaska, these days you get a balmy average of 60. Break out the shorts and tank tops, people. Compare that to the rising average temps in places like Arizona and Texas—which regularly get into the hundreds. A few degrees there takes you from searing-your-bare-thighs-on-your-car’s-pleather-seats hot to uninhabitable scorched earth. While you’re investing in air conditioning, building that in-ground pool, and suffering through rolling blackouts, Alaskans are making the summer memories of your yesteryears.

Sea stars and anemones wait for Lower 48 tide-poolers to find them in Sitka.

And even though record wildfires have broken out in Alaska over the last few years, NOAA predicts average annual precipitation in the Great Land will increase by 10 percent toward mid-century. This, while most of the western U.S. is in severe drought. Lake Mead shows plummeting water levels, and the Great Salt Lake is no longer living up to its name. So even though Alaska is warming at a more rapid rate than the contiguous U.S. and serves as a bellwether for the rest of the world, it also might be the last bastion of relief in the inferno of climate change.

But what about the winters, you ask? I know, you’ve watched a lot of episodes of Life Below Zero, The Last Alaskans, and Ice Road Truckers. But I’ll let you in on a little secret: Alaska residents pitch those to the networks to scare people out of moving here. After all, the Kilcher family, featured in Alaska: The Last Frontier, lives a dozen miles from a Safeway. Winters are warm and getting warmer. So warm, that the Arctic will have ice-free summers before 2050. Yes, Alaska will still have snow and ice and freezing temps in January and February, for a while at least. But your go-to ski and boarding destinations like Aspen and Vail might not. Best to buy your future season passes at Alyeska.

Of course, all of this is meant to be taken tongue in cheek. Make no mistake, a heat wave in Alaska still damages the land and its people. It has devastating effects on the salmon runs, polar bear hunting success, landslides, and sea level rise. That said, I’ve witnessed polar bears in Norway shift to killing reindeer when they can no longer hunt from the ice. It’s a sad fact that when habitat changes (regardless of the cause), we and the animals have to adapt or die trying. While there are tons of good reasons to make Alaska your home (or second home), its cool, refreshing summers and warming winters offer one more. My advice? Forget that beach-front property in Naples, Florida, and plan ahead—be a forward thinker and early adopter. Plant your umbrella on Kodiak’s shoreline or somewhere on the Kenai Peninsula before it’s overrun with ocean-view resorts and seashell souvenir shops. You’ll thank me later.   

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