Sun bathers, reptiles emerge in Alaska heat as wildfires spread

ANCHORAGE, Alaska Thu Jun 20, 2013 11:59am EDT

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) - With a heat wave gripping Alaska, strange things have been happening under the midnight sun.

Anchorage residents, who a month ago shivered through an unseasonably cold spring and a surprise May snowstorm, have donned swimsuits and depleted stores of fans to ward off record heat in the state's largest city.

Temperatures have run as much as 20 degrees Fahrenheit above normal, with daytime highs in Anchorage climbing into the 80s in recent days, and the sudden onset of atypical warmth has been blamed for unleashing wildfires and flooding alike.

Moose have been spotted near lawn sprinklers around Anchorage and at least one invaded someone's kiddie pool. Pet reptiles, normally confined to heated indoor spaces because of Alaska's cold outdoors, are making rare public appearances.

Park managers at Goose Lake, one of Anchorage's few outdoor swimming spots, had to eject a pet iguana named "Godzilla," along with some pet snakes and a turtle that patrons brought to the crowded sandy shoreline, said Doreen Hernandez, the city aquatic superintendent who has been working at the site.

Pets are not allowed at Goose Lake for health reasons, although she conceded that the rule is usually applied to dogs.

"We don't have a sign that says `No Snakes,'" she said.

Heat records have been broken around the state, with an all-time record high of 96 degrees reached on Tuesday in Talkeetna, the tiny town famous as the jumping-off site for Mount McKinley expeditions. The previous record high there was 91 degrees.

SIZZLING SOLSTICE

The heat spell has come at the peak of Alaska's summer, just before the solstice, a time of nearly round-the-clock daylight as the sun barely grazes the horizon overnight.

In Valdez, operators of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline marine terminal halted oil-tanker loading for 4 1/2 hours late Monday night and early Tuesday morning as a precaution after temperatures at the terminal hit 92 degrees.

"Our systems aren't used to operating in that heat," said Katie Pesznecker, a spokeswoman for operator Alyeska Pipeline Service Co.

Meteorologists blame the anomaly on rapid shift in atmospheric wind patterns. The system that brought cold air from the north during the spring changed suddenly, sending in hot air from the south and southeast.

The rapid heat-up caused considerable flooding of mountain streams, said Tom Pepe, an Anchorage-based meteorologist for the National Weather Service.

"You get big pieces of ice that jam up small parts of rivers,"

Flooding along the Yukon River late last month caused severe damage in several Native Alaskan villages, most notably the Athabascan community of Galena, where nearly all residents were evacuated by aircraft.

Property damage along the river was estimated at $10 million, said Tony Luiken, a state emergency management spokesman. The governor has declared a disaster.

The heat wave also has stoked numerous wildfires, many ignited by dry-lightning strikes fueled by ample dry brush.

A lightning-sparked wildfire straddling the Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge and Wrangell-St. Elias National Park tripled in size in one day, and was last measured at more than 25,000 acres, the National Park Service said on Wednesday.

(Editing by Steve Gorman and Maureen Bavdek)

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Comments (1)
annrkiszt wrote:
“Global warming is just something to scare us all and cost us tax money” they said. “They’re just trying to stir up drama” they said. We answered “it won’t be MY fault when we’re all in it together.” We kept riding our bikes, conserving electricity, recycling, and fighting for change. Will they join us now? Will they finally get off their lazy excuses and make that 10% more effort we need? Will we just keep struggling and worrying and watching to see how it all goes?

Jun 20, 2013 1:15pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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