01:24 - Source: CNN
See glaciers melt before your eyes

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Alaska in the midst of a relative heat wave

Wildfires in the far north are down even with temps up

CNN  — 

Alaska averaging 33.9 degrees over seven months may not seem warm to folks in the Lower 48.

But that just proves they haven’t lived there. A not-far-above-freezing high from January 1 to July 31 is a virtual heat wave.

This year’s average is 8.1 degrees above the 20th century average of 25.8. 2016 has been on pace to be the hottest year on record.

Ann Harmeling Class, a retired teacher in Wasilla, said fellow retirees agree the state is having much warmer winters and summers.

“My lifelong Alaskan friend never remembers it being this warm,” Class, who moved to Alaska more than 30 years ago, told CNN by Facebook. “Blueberries and raspberries in July. That is unheard of!”

May 2016 was the warmest in 137 years, breaking global temperature records, according to a report published Thursday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

This is the longest hot streak for the state since temperature record-keeping began in 1880, according to NOAA. It’s also warmer in Canada, Mexico, Central America, northern South America, northern Europe, Africa, Oceania, and parts of southern and eastern Asia, according to the Land & Ocean Temperature Percentiles map by NOAA.

The warmer temperatures are having an impact. It was so warm in March, the Alaska Railroad had to haul 300 cubic yards of snow from Fairbanks to Anchorage for the ceremonial opening of the famed Iditarod sled dog race, and they still had to shorten the course by 3 miles.

Snow fell on just one day in February, making the total snowfall just 1.8 inches for the month. Anchorage had the fourth warmest February on record this year.

The higher-than-normal temperatures are blamed for sparking tundra blazes that threatened the state’s forests, Inside Climate News reported.

Boreal forests and arctic tundra cover 33% of global land area and store an estimated 50% of total soil carbon, so increased wildfires there would likely have global implications, according to an article in the journal Ecography.

“We know some of these areas haven’t burned in thousands of years,” University of Montana fire ecology researcher Philip Higuera told Inside Climate News.

Two wildfires in southwest Alaska in May and June burned more than 8,000 acres, CNN-affiliate KTVA reported.

Alaska wildfires can contribute to global warming.

The wildfires release more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which scientists say will drive more global warming. The ongoing heat is being blamed for melting critical sea ice even faster than normal. As of May, Arctic Sea ice stretching to about the size of Texas had vanished.

But this year has been a good one as far as wildfires go, KTVA reported. Last year it cost more than $100 million to fight fires, which burned 4 million acres plus. This year fewer than 200,000 acres have burned, costing less than $20 million, said the Bureau of Land Management.

CNN’s Jareen Imam and Braden Walker contributed to this story