5th day in 80s breaks record

Sixth day of unusual highs expected today

Posted: Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Juneau set a record Tuesday with its fifth straight day over 80 degrees, and the streak is poised to continue.

The longest period of sustained heat ever recorded in the city sent people to Sandy Beach to cool off in the waters of Gastineau Channel. Even tourists who arrived in Juneau Tuesday for the first time, knew something was unusual.

"We came to Alaska looking for some cool weather," Denise Caraway, a Norwegian Star cruise passenger from Lake Charles, La., said downtown.

Tuesday turned out to be the hottest June 22 recorded in Juneau since the National Weather Service started keeping records in 1943. The high reading of 84 during the 5 p.m. hour at the airport broke the 1997 record of 82, according to meteorologist Brian Bezenek.

Kimberly Vaughan, a hydrometeorological technician for the weather service in Juneau, said Juneau recorded three previous spells of four straight 80-degree days - in 1951, 1972 and 1990 - all in July. Even before Tuesday, this June spell was hotter than any of those, she said, with highs of 84 and 85 degrees every day.

The National Weather Service reported Saturday that a high-pressure system was parked over Southeast Alaska, keeping clouds out as warm air pours in from Canada.

Bezenek said each day during the spell has set a new record for the date. Today should be "another nice day," he added. The forecast high is 84. Today's record is only 80.

Thursday could top 80 as well, and the record for that date is only 79, he said. High temperatures could be at or near 80 into Saturday, he said.

Juneau has never recorded a month with more than seven 80-degree days, the forecasters said.

Early Tuesday evening, with the sun still burning in Juneau's cloudless blue sky, five Southeast communities had reported record readings Tuesday.

Caraway, part of a group of 30 people celebrating a 50th anniversary, said every stop on the cruise has been warm so far.

Southeast Alaska has been hot enough and dry enough that the National Forest Service established fire restrictions in the Tongass National Forest Tuesday. Until further notice, campfires will be limited to designated sites.

The order also restricts smoking in the forest, except within buildings, vehicles, developed campgrounds and barren areas. Possessing or discharging fireworks is prohibited, and working spark-arresting devices are required for vehicles and firewood cutters.

Charlie Streuli, ecology, fire and forest management staff officer for the National Forest Service in Petersburg, said Tongass fire restrictions are rare, although this is the second imposed this year.

"I've lived in Southeast Alaska for 20 years," Streuli said. "I don't remember a time when it was so uncomfortably hot when I went to bed. It's really hot."

As hot as it was standing under the sun Tuesday afternoon, Christine Stewart was wearing a mostly black-and-white puffin costume to welcome Norwegian Star passengers ashore. A little girl asked her if it was hot inside.

"It's very, very warm," she said, after the passengers had gone and she had taken her orange-beaked head off. Coming from the Canadian province of Ontario, she said she was expecting rain in Juneau but wasn't disappointed by the weather.

Mik Gardini, chief photographer for the cruise, taking pictures of passengers with the costumed greeters, said the costume heads are equipped with fans to cool off the people wearing them.

"It's not working," Stewart said.

Gardini, who lives in Brighton on the southern coast of England, said that even without a costume he found Juneau to be warm. "This takes the biscuit," he said.

Tourists in the crowd of people at Mendenhall Lake said they weren't disappointed with the weather - just surprised. "They told me to dress warm," said Lyla Vickrey, from Boise, Idaho. "And it rains a lot."

Like many, she was taking pictures of her children holding chunks of ice that had drifted to the beach, with their Mendenhall Glacier source in the background.

"We were expecting cool weather and rain in Ketchikan, and it was warm there too," said Nadine Fink of Buena Park, Calif., off the Celebrity cruise ship Summit. "I never thought we'd go to Alaska and get sun."

She said she had to buy a tank top and a pair of shorts in Juneau, each bearing the city's name, as souvenirs to the city's ideal weather.

"I expected it to be cold and snowing," said 10-year-old Sarah Fink, after putting down the chunk of ice she had grabbed from the lake.

She said she liked coming to Juneau because she got to play in the water.

Two local 8-year-old boys, Kellen Johansen of Douglas and Liam Hettinger, who said he lives nearby, were dragging an inflatable boat up from the beach.

Hettinger said it was his third straight day swimming in the lake.

Johansen said he has been swimming other places. The heat, he said, "is really good, till it comes to something like soccer. Then you get sweaty and hot."

"Then you don't want to play anymore," Hettinger added.

As for the water in the lake filled will icebergs, he said, "it's warm for us."

"It's cold for them," Johansen said, motioning toward the visitors.

He said the only problem he sees with the weather is sunburn.

• Tony Carroll can be reached at tony.carroll@juneauempire.com.

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