Alaska Thunderstorms May Triple with Climate Change

By David Hosansky.

Warming temperatures will potentially alter the climate in Alaska so profoundly later this century that the number of thunderstorms will triple, increasing the risks of widespread flash flooding, landslides, and lightning-induced wildfires, new research finds.

In a pair of new papers, a research team led by scientists at the Paris Sciences and Letters University and the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) show that the sea ice around Alaska could largely give way to open water in the warmer months, creating an ample source of moisture for the atmosphere. This moisture, combined with warmer temperatures that can hold more water vapor, would turbocharge summertime storms over Alaska by the end of the century under a high greenhouse gas emissions scenario.

“Alaska can expect three times as many storms, and those storms will be more intense,” said NCAR scientist Andreas Prein, a co-author of the new papers. “It will be a very different regime of rainfall.”

The thunderstorms would extend throughout Alaska, even in far northern regions where such storms are virtually unheard of. In more southern regions of the state that currently experience occasional thunderstorms, the storms would become far more frequent and peak rainfall rates would increase by more than a third.