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February 2008 - One Year After Indigenous Peoples IPY Opening, Kautokeino - Is it Unusually Warm?
Written by Philip Burgess   
Thursday, 28 May 2009 01:22
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ihbauer"Thus the winter as a whole may become the warmest since the measurements started.”

Inger Hanssen Bauer, Norwegian Meteorological Institute, Febraury 14, 2008

A year ago this week, the opening of the Indigenous Peoples International Polar Year was held  in Kautokeino with over 600 guests filling the local sports hall with attendees including the then Minister for Environment Helen Bjornoy, State Secretary for Sami Affairs Berit Oskal and President of the Sami Parliament Aili Keskitalo. The event was a huge success and was followed by the first EALAT workshop with a wide range of presentations being made by researchers and reindeer herders.

A quick look at the pictures from that day suggest that it was cold – and it was – with the temperature touching -35 C. (cold - but not as cold as the February of 1966 when the monthly average was -25.8 C and the coldest day was -48.8 C!


Fast forward to 2008 and we are in the midst of an extremely mild February. Indeed this week it was +2 C and raining. 
I called EALAT team member and the Head of section/Climate research at the Norwegian Meteorogical Institute Inger Hanssen Bauer to ask whether we were in the midst of an unusually warm February.

“Well, so far in February it is on average 6 degrees above the climatology for February, so far. But it is not breaking records. And that is because the natural variability is really high, so even if it is 6.2 C above normal, the normal climatology for Febraury is -14.6 C and -14.8 C (average monthly temperature) depending on which station we look at. The highest value we have have on record for February is -4.1 C. But what is special for this winter is that December and January were also relatively mild. Thus the winter as a whole may become the warmest since the measurements started.”

The winter average will be -8.3 C if February 2008 continues to be as warm as it has been so far. The warmest winter on record is presently the winter 1929-1930, with an average of -8.6 C.

Records for Kautokeino go all the way back to 1889. While figures for some years are absent, the records are a valuable source of information to past weather patterns. According to Stein Kristiansen, the weather station used currently in Kautokeino is now back in the site where it started in 1889, with different location used between 1970-1996.  The current station is 307 metres above sea level, a little lower than previous one (330 m).

“Currently the average temperature for February is -8.7 C. In 1891 it was an average of -6.9 C and in 2003; we had a monthly average of -7.7 C so at the moment, as far as I can see, this is the 5th warmest February so far according to the figures from the place we are measuring now. At the other weather station, they also had some rather warm Februaries, in 1984, the average was -7.1C and in 1990, they had -5.3 C and in 1992, -7.8 C”

As Kautokeino is influenced by a continental climate, variability is built into the system, explained Hanssen Bauer.

“This warmer period is caused very much by the circulation patterns. Of course the reason why the variability is so large in the higher northern latitudes is in general that very cold air is produced locally and then you can have very much warmer air masses coming in from the sea or the South, so the difference from the locally produced cold air and the air that is transported in either from the sea or from Southern areas is huge. That is the general answer. In addition, if you have a climate signal, it will contribute to a warming. The large variability is more based on local factors. Global warming alone would not make it that much warmer. It can also have to do with circulation patterns.”

One of the larger environmental stories this winter has been the dramatic reduction in Arctic sea ice. This also has an impact on our local weather, though it is difficult to quantify. I put this to Hanssen Bauer.

“Yes, when you have less ice and the air mass over the sea is warmer and the water temperatures are higher, and when these air masses come to your area, they will be even warmer than they would otherwise have been. So of course the sea ice and the global climate affect this as well.”

Climatologists prefer to talk in terms of at least 30 years, according to Hanssen Bauer, so if one takes a 100 year of this winter, it is warmer than usual this February, but it is not unusual. It was also warmer in the 1930’s. What about those +2 degrees? Is that unusual? Stein Kristiansen:

"No. If you look at the station we are measuring now, a mean for what the monthly maximum temperature is in February is +2.0 C. For all Februaries in Kautokeino, you usually have a monthly maximum that is above Zero. At the place we are measuring now, it has been up to +7.0 C in 1959. If we look at the other station (1971 to 1995) they had a monthly maximum temperature in February of +1.6 C, with a high of +6 C degrees in 1984."


By Philip Burgess
Thanks to Inger Hanssen Bauer and Stein Kristiansen at
Visit and for detailed weather statistics…

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