Earliest Thunderstorm in 28 Years in Fairbanks

May 10, 2012; 1:10 PM ET
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(flickr image by amanda_moore)

Thunderstorms fired off ahead of schedule in the immediate Fairbanks area over this past weekend.

According to the National Weather Service (NWS) in Fairbanks, Alaska, a thunderstorm, lasting about 20 minutes or so, occurred in the Fairbanks Basin Saturday evening, May 5, 2012.

While not the earliest thunderstorm on record for the observation site at the airport, it is more common for thunderstorms to form over the mountains which rim the area to the northwest, north and northeast this early in the season.

The last time there was a thunderstorm so early in the basin was May 3, 1984.

According to Senior Meteorologist Jim Andrews, "Thunderstorms, which become more common later in May, reach their peak in June into early July in the region."

Sometimes the storms bring little or no rain but can cause frequent lightning strikes, which in turn can start wildfires.

"Wetter conditions, mostly higher humidity levels, usually follow during the balance of July and August lowering the risk of wildfires somewhat," Andrews said.

Despite the early thunderstorm activity, temperatures averaged close to normal over the weekend in the Fairbanks area with highs in the middle 50s and lows in the lower 30s.

Bitter cold affected much of Alaska during January, when temperatures averaged 10 to 20 degrees below average values.

The month-by-month temperature averages have flip-flopped from extreme warm to extreme cold since November 2011.

"Big temperature swings are not uncommon for the Fairbanks area," Andrews said.

"The swings have to do with the oscillating flow of air from the frigid Arctic, the relatively mild Pacific Ocean and the tricks mountain ranges play on the atmosphere around the region," he added.

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