2004 Year in Review - Fairbanks
Record-breaking heat and rain, smoke, and wildfires highlight 2004
2004 By the Numbers
Fairbanks began 2004 with temperatures below normal, averaging about 6°F below the long term average for January in what is the coldest month of the year. At mid-month residents had several days of extreme cold weather with temperatures of -40°F and lower, accompanied by thick ice fog in the valleys. The years low temperature of -46°F was recorded three consecutive days, 17th - 19th January. Due to the generally clear and cold conditions, precipitation was light with about half the normal January total. February brought a return to normal temperatures with the exception of two days during the second week in which the mercury soared well above freezing to hit 44°F and 46°F, thanks to a Chinook event bringing warm air into the interior. Precipitation continued to be less than normal.

Temperatures varied widely for the next several weeks giving both above and below normal conditions. Late in March the weather tended toward cooler than normal and remained so into early April. A warm-up followed for the remainder of the month with very little precipitation. There were several signs of spring during April with the disappearance of seasonal snowpack in the valley by mid-month and the first Canada geese of the season spotted flying into Fairbanks on the 3rd. The precipitation deficit began to lift in early May when Fairbanks received 2.01 inches during the month, three times the normal total, breaking the previous record. Greenup in the Fairbanks area occurred during the first week, a bit earlier than normal. The abundant precipitation resulted in green lawns at month's end, but large mosquito populations.

Conditions began to change in June when warmer and drier than normal weather prevailed for much of the summer. The June mean temperature of 66.8°F was 7°F above normal and ranked as second warmest on record behind 1913. The high for the year of 88°F occurred on the 20th. Wildfires began to spread due to ideal weather conditions: high lightning outbreaks combined with warmth and dryness. By the end of the month, over 1.1 million acres in the state had burned, which by the way is just over the normal total for an entire season. Smoke rolled into the Fairbanks area the last week in June rising particulate matter and CO concentrations to dangerous levels. July brought little relief as the warm weather and dry conditions remained, with the exception of a few rainfall events at the end of the month. Wildfires continued to start and existing ones grew as the area burned statewide reached to 4.4 million acres by the start of August. Some residents along Highways north and east of the city were evacuated as the fires grew, however some cabins in the hills northeast of town could not be saved. August brought more of the same with temperatures well above normal (second warmest) and record-setting dryness.

The average summer temperature in Fairbanks (64.5°F) broke the previous record warmest summer of 1975 by 2°F, which incidentally was also a bad fire year. Smoke persisted in the Tanana Valley and elsewhere into September, and the area burned statewide topped a record 6.7 million acres making 2004 the most active wildfire season in 50 years. A seemingly stationary high pressure sitting over eastern Alaska and western Canada was mostly to blame for the anomalous weather.
Mean Annual Temperature 28.8°F
Departure from Normal + 1.9°F
Highest Temperature 88°F (20 Jun)
Lowest Temperature -46°F (17 - 19 Jan)
Total Precipitation 8.13 inches
Departure from Normal - 2.21 inches
Maximum 24hr Precipitation 0.6 inch (6 May)
Total Snowfall 67.6 inches
Departure from Normal + 0.4 inches
Maximum 24hr Snowfall 4.0 inches (19 Oct)
New Record Highs / Lows 4 / 0
Highs Above 85°F 5 days
Lows Below -40°F 4 days
Heating Degree Days 13403

Relief from the heat and dryness finally arrived in September as temperatures averaged almost 6°F below normal and precipitation was 20% above normal for the month. The first measurable snow of the season came on the 26th but the seasonal snowpack did not establish until the third week in October. Temperatures switched back above normal during October and precipitation was also higher than average with two straight weeks of measurable snowfall during the second half of the month. The frequent but light snow events continued into November, along with generally warmer than normal conditions. The first below-zero temperature of the season was recorded early in the month. December brought generally above normal temperatures. A few days around Christmas had lows of -36°F. Snowfall remained above normal the last few weeks of the year and about a foot and a half of snow was on the ground at the start of the New Year.

Questions or comments? Please contact the Alaska Climate Research Center.