Alaska is the largest state in the United States, yet it has the third smallest population. One-half of Alaska’s approximately 750,000 residents live in or near Anchorage. And a further large percentage live in Juneau, the capital city. While formerly occupied by Native Americans for thousands of years, Alaska was long held by Russia. In fact, the land that would eventually become the state wasn’t sold to the United States government until 1867. In 1959, Alaska became the 49th state admitted to the United States. The state is well known for its harsh climate, but, just where is the coldest place in Alaska?
Read on to learn about Alaska’s coldest place, as well as the coldest temperature ever recorded in the state. After that, we’ll take a deep dive into the coldest spot in the state. We’ll learn about the history of the place and the local wildlife. Finally, we’ll find out what there is to do and see, in the coldest place in Alaska.
The Coldest Place in Alaska
Here, we will define the coldest place in Alaska by the lowest average annual temperature. By that measurement, Utqiagvik (formerly Barrow) is the coldest place in Alaska. This northerly city has an annual average minimum temperature of just 6 degrees Fahrenheit (F). That is not to say that Utqiagvik is home to the coldest temperature ever recorded in the state, but that it is the coldest place in Alaska—when ranking by lowest average temperature.
With its northerly latitude, Alaska is one of the coldest states in the United States. The annual average temperature (statewide) is just 37 degrees Fahrenheit. January is, on average, the coldest month, with an average minimum temperature of 10 degrees F. In contrast, the average maximum temperature in July (the warmest month of the year) is a relatively balmy 66 degrees F.
The Coldest Temperature Ever Recorded in Alaska
Alaska isn’t known for its frigid, northern winters for nothing. Home to cold-weather creatures like moose, caribou, and grizzly bear, Alaska can have severe winters. The most severe of these (in recorded history) occurred in 1971. The coldest temperature ever recorded in Alaska is -80 degrees F, recorded in Prospect Creek on January 23, 1971. Additionally, there are 19 places in the state with recorded temperatures of -70 degrees F or lower.
History of Utqiagvik
As of 2016, the town formerly known as Barrow, Alaska, now goes by its original Inupiaq name, Utqiagvik (pronounced oot-kee-AAG-vuhk). According to archaeological records, people have been living in and around Utqiagvik for at least 1,500 years. First incorporated in 1959, Utqiagvik is the northernmost town in the United States. Today, it’s home to nearly 5,000 full-time residents, many of whom still practice traditional hunting and fishing.
It wasn’t until after the United States’ acquisition of the Alaska Territory in 1867 that Europeans began settling in Utqiagvik. In the 1880s, the community became home to a Presbyterian church, a whaling station, and a U.S. Army meteorological research center. Now officially the headquarters of the North Slope Borough, Utqiagvik is a popular destination for more adventurous tourists.
Wildlife in and Around Utqiagvik
The coldest place in Alaska is located in an arid tundra climate, bordered on the north by the Chukchi Sea. It is both cold and dry, yet, wildlife proliferates, both on land, and at sea. According to the North Slope Borough Division of Wildlife Management, the area is home to a diverse array of cold-loving creatures.
At sea, these include bowhead whales, beluga whales, ringed seals, spotted seals, bearded seals, and ribbon seals. On land, wolverines, caribou, arctic foxes, and even polar bears wander the ice. Additionally, both walrus’ and a wide variety of fish make their home in the frigid waters and ice floes.
Things to Do in Utqiagvik
The coldest place in Alaska is not a destination for the faint of heart. But, if you can handle the cold temperatures, it’s well worth the journey. After all, Utqiagvik is one of the northernmost towns in the world; it offers an unparalleled, one-of-a-kind experience. From downtown, you can easily walk to the shores of the Arctic Ocean. If you’re brave, you can even dip a finger or two in.
One popular destination for visitors is Point Barrow, the furthest north point in the United States. Another is the Whale Bone Arch, a sculpture created entirely of whale bones, which signifies the important relationship between the Inupiat people and whaling. If you would like to learn more about Utqiagvik’s history, don’t miss out on the Inupiat Heritage Center.
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- Crown Science, Available here: https://www.crownscience.org/places/alaska-us
- University of Alaska, Available here: https://www.gi.alaska.edu/alaska-science-forum/cold-places
- Cool Weather, Available here: https://coolweather.net/statetemperature/alaska-temperature.htm
- US Climate Data, Available here: https://www.usclimatedata.com/climate/barrow/alaska/united-states/usak0025
- North Slope, Available here: https://www.north-slope.org/our-communities/utqiagvik/#:~:text=Traditionally%2C%20the%20community%20is%20known,existed%20between%20500%2D900%20AD
- Arctic Slope, Available here: https://arcticslope.org/about/communities/utqiagvik/