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Alaska sweating through brutal blast of heat

Mark Thiessen / AP

This photo taken Monday, June 17, 2013, shows people sunning at Goose Lake in Anchorage, Alaska. Parts of Alaska are setting high temperature records as a heat wave continues across Alaska. Temperatures are nothing like what Phoenix or Las Vegas gets, but temperatures in the 80s and 90s are hot for Alaska, where few buildings have air conditioning. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen)


Famed for its biting cold, Alaska is now sweating through a brutal heat wave that has gone from an oddball curiosity to a worrisome danger.

Spring never happened for many parts of the state, as a never-ending winter until mid-May gave way to record-breaking heat in June.

"It was an incredibly rapid transition," Michael Lawson, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service based in Alaska, told NBC. "Literally, our spring was about five days before we jumped into summer-type weather." 

Temperatures in the 90s -- an extreme rarity -- were preceded by a record-breaking cold snap. That caused rapid snow melts in parts of the state and localized flooding. Now, the above-normal heat has led to parts of Alaska to be placed under a red-flag warning for wildfires.        

The National Weather Service issued the warning, in effect until Wednesday, because of the dry, windy conditions that could cause wildfires. Melissa Kreller, a meteorologist in Fairbanks for The Weather Channel, said people should be extremely careful about lighting matches or throwing cigarettes on the ground over the next few days. In many areas, firework sales for the Fourth of July are banned.

The blast of heat started last week with temperatures in the mid-to-high 80s for most of Alaska. South-central Alaska had four all-time highs on June 17, with temperatures in Talkeetna reaching 94 degrees. In Fairbanks, the “near-record temperatures” are expected Wednesday and Thursday to clock in at 91 degrees.

Temperatures above 90 are extremely rare in Alaska. Fairbanks has only experienced 90 or above 14 times since in 109 years. The record in Fairbanks is 95 degrees set back in 1915.

A large northward bulge in the jet stream is to blame, consensus shows. Why that has occurred is more hotly debated. Some scientists tie the jet stream's odd behavior on climate change. Others don't make the connections directly, instead seeing random weather or long-term cycles at work. And even more scientists are taking a wait-and-see approach.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.