That’s the result of less precipitation over the better part of the past two years in what is normally one of the wettest parts of the state. Things are most severe in the southernmost portion of Southeast, including Prince of Wales Island and the Ketchikan area, but even Juneau and Yakutat are considered abnormally dry, according to the monitor.
“This is unusual for us, not unheard of, but unusual,” said Wayne Owen, director of wildlife for the Alaska Region for the USDA Forest Service, in a phone interview with the Empire.
What makes it even more unusual is that big-picture predictions expect Southeast Alaska to be getting wetter in the future.
“The climate models are in good agreement that across Southeast Alaska, over the long term, precipitation overall will increase,” Rick Thoman, Alaska Climate Specialist for Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy, said. “We’re actually seeing that over the last 50 years, but what the ongoing event shows is that even in a wetting world, where precipitation is increasing, there’s going to be these drying times.”
Despite about two years worth of increased dryness so far, Owen said Alaskans shouldn’t expect Tongass National Forest or other areas to suddenly look like barren deserts — even in places under the extreme drought designation.
“Extreme drought to us would be plenty of water to plenty of other people,” Owen said. “It’s kind of a sliding scale. It’s a departure from the normal expected amount of precipitation. It’s not an absolute amount.”
Those “normal” amounts are based on 30-year averages calculated by the National Weather Service, Owen said.
In light of the drought, Owen said Forest Service employees are extra-aware of the risk of forest fires and the possibility that trees may be more susceptible to pests because of dryness, but so far plants and animals are doing OK.
• Contact reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt.