Flashes of lightning were recorded within 483 kilometers (300 miles) of the North Pole over the weekend, making the extremely rare weather event the most northerly strikes known to Alaskan meteorologists. The lightning strikes were detected near 85 degrees north and 120 degrees east by the GLD Lightning Detection Network used by the National Weather Service.
“A number of lightning strikes were recorded between 4pm and 6pm today within 300 miles of the North Pole,” wrote the National Weather Service in a statement, adding that the strikes occurred about 1,126 kilometers (700 miles) north of the Lena River Delta of Siberia. “This is one of the furthest north lightning strikes in Alaska forecaster memory.”
Lightning strikes do occur in the Arctic Circle (66.6 degrees north latitude), but Weather.com notes that these events are relatively rare and often do not occur as far north as last weekend’s event. According to the publication, the strikes were likely from elevated thunderstorms from unstable air in the "middle portion of the atmosphere."
Generally speaking, lightning strikes tend to occur over land because solid earth is able to absorb sunlight and heat up faster than water, creating better convection for the formation of thunder and lightning storms overhead, according to NASA. A map compiled by the space agency using data from 1995 to 2013 shows just how few lightning flashes occur per square kilometer in Alaska (roughly less than 0.1 every year).
Alaska has been seeing its fair share of rogue weather this summer. Today marks a new record for the number of 70°F (21°C) days in a year with 43 days. By contrast, a normal year sees 16 days with a max of 70°F+,” said climatologist Brian Brettschneider in a tweet. Indeed, Alaska is on track to continue experiencing record-setting summer highs after some parts of the state saw temperatures in the 90s (32°C) – some 20 to 30 degrees above average, reports NOAA. June was the second warmest on record for the state, providing an ideal environment for wildfires. Already this year, the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center notes that nearly 2.5 million acres have burned.