Thunder in the Arctic: Over 1,000 lightning strikes detected over frozen Alaska sea

FILE Lightning photo. (Credit: Sean Waugh / NOAA/NSSL)

You might not think of the Arctic as a hotbed for lightning, but a series of rare thunderstorms have been observed above the Arctic Circle this week.

Between 100 and 200 lightning strikes were initially detected over the Beaufort Sea east of Point Barrow Monday evening, according to the National Weather Service in Fairbanks, Alaska.  While the storms were initially about 100 miles north of Alaska's northern Arctic coast, some of the storms drifted south near Prudhoe Bay.

By Tuesday morning, lightning sensors by Vaisala detected over 1,200 lightning strikes, according to the company's Chris Vagasky.

Over 1,200 lightning strikes detected over 24-hour period on July 12-13, 2021. (Chart via: Chris Vagasky / Vaisala)

Forecasters says a (relatively) warm front from Siberia pushed into the Arctic Coast, sending temperatures to near record highs for the region. NWS forecasters say Deadhorse hit a high of 73 and Kuparuk hit 70, both narrowly missing daily record highs. Other temperatures in the region reached the upper 60s and low 70s.

Then a trailing cold front set the stage traditionally seen in more southerly latitudes for thunderstorm development.

Thunderstorms occur over northern Alaska each year and will drift out over the onto the ice about every year or two, according to NWS forecasters in Fairbanks.  "But thunderstorms that develop up over the ice pack north of the Alaska Coast as occurred today only happens every 5 to 10 years," they wrote.