Bethel's Late Frost Is The 'New Normal'

Bethel's first frost was not as late as in 2018, but still tracked along the trend of longer growing seasons in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta.
Credit Krysti Shallenberger / KYUK

Bethel had its first frost in September of this year. It’s not as late as last year's, but it’s still late. And that, one climatologist says, is the new normal. 

In 2018, Bethel didn’t see a frost until late October. That broke records for the longest growing season the town has ever experienced. Rick Thoman, an Alaska climatologist, says that 2018 saw more warm weather.

"Well last year the weather was such, to not get a freeze in Bethel until after the middle of October requires more or less non-stop southernly winds, and that’s not normal in any stretch, and this year we didn’t get that abnormal condition," Thoman said.

The average growing season in Bethel is 105 days. That’s based on nearly 100 years of recordkeeping that started in 1924. This year’s was 129 days. The growing season in 2018 was 155 days. Bethel hasn’t experienced an average growing season since 2000, with two exceptions. 

"It’s the new normal. Very short seasons of decades gone by just don’t happen anymore," Thoman said.

2016 is still the benchmark for the warmest winter on record for Bethel, but 2018 came close. Temperatures averaged well above freezing. 2019 started off cooler, closer to normal temperatures, but February and March temperatures were well above normal, smashing records. February averaged 29 degrees Fahrenheit and March averaged 30 degrees Fahrenheit. Normally, February averages 11 degrees Fahrenheit and March averages 15 degrees Fahrenheit.

Those warm temperatures had deadly consequences: four people in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta died driving their snowmachines into open water or falling through thin ice on the frozen Kuskowkim River. Other communities experienced unusual flooding. Thoman says that these trends will continue.