Alaska spans 665,000 square miles with nearly 60 million acres of specified wilderness regions. It’s a breathtakingly beautiful state that experiences phenomena like the Midnight Sun, when there are numerous weeks of continuous sunlight. Adventurers from all over the world make this destination a bucket list item. It’s where low precipitation levels contribute to awe-inspiring skyscapes when the Aurora Borealis, also known as the Northern Lights, dances and swirls in bright greens, pinks, violets, and reds. This gorgeous state has cool temperatures, even during its summer months, with highs only reaching about 67 degrees Fahrenheit on average. The snow-covered mountains and chilly temperatures attract tourists every year, but how does this winter compare to the coldest winter ever recorded in Alaska’s history?
The Coldest Winter Ever Recorded in Alaska’s History
When considering the lowest temperatures recorded in Alaska, it’s almost unimaginable — unless you live there! Although other states within the U.S. have record lows, with Montana reaching -70 °F in 1954, there has been nothing like it since. However, in Alaska, temperatures like -70 °F have been recorded on multiple occasions. For instance, in Tok on December 13, 1964, temperatures dropped to exactly -70 °F. In this same town (that has a population of just over 1,300), temperatures dipped even lower to -71 °F.
On January 6, 1975, Clearwater experienced -72 °F. Ambler West would not be left behind, with temperatures dropping to -74 °F on January 26, 1989. Although the name makes you think of warmth, Manley Hot Springs was absolutely frigid on January 5, 1997, with the recorded low landing at -77 °F. However, Alaska set the national record for coldest day ever on January 23, 1971, when Prospect Creek Camp temperatures plummeted to -80 °F with a wind chill that made it feel like -91 °F. This settlement is about 180 miles north of Fairbanks and since the 1990’s, it’s an abandoned space with infrequent visits by campers.
Average Highs and Lows This Year
Alaskans refer to their weather as “wacky and wonderful,” and though the subzero temperatures may deter some visitors during the winter months, the summer season can be quite mild. In Fairbanks, for instance, temperatures spike up to 90 °F. The Interior often experiences warm weather that reaches over 80 °F. Although daytime temperatures make it great for outdoor living, when evening rolls around, temperatures get cool.
The coastal and southern regions of the state experience cooler weather, even during the summer months. On average, temperatures range from 40 °F to 60 °F. September is usually the wettest month in Alaska and winter temperatures start in November and run through March. On average, winter temperatures range between 0 °F and -30 °F. This winter in Juneau, Alaska’s capital, temperatures have dipped as low as 5 °F on December 20th and have topped out at 46.9 °F in the late part of January.
In Anchorage, there were some subzero temperatures recorded in December, dropping down to -11.9 °F on December 20. In January, temperatures reached 42.1 °F. In Fairbanks, the coldest day was in December when temperatures plunged to -38.9 °F. Subzero temperatures persisted into January but made it above zero, reaching up to 26.1 °F. Still freezing, but certainly a relief for those having to endure the subzero temps.
Animal Migration in Alaska
The bitter cold that winter brings in Alaska results in several different animals taking precautions to ensure survival. Collared pika, for example, use their summer homes to store their food so they can make it through the winter. Arctic terns are birds with distinctive angular wings and grey and white colorations. These birds use the summer season in Alaska to nest and bring up their young. When fall rolls around, they take off, traveling a miraculous 15,000 miles over to Antarctica. Caribou migrate by land, traveling, on average, about 2,000 miles every year. They migrate to find lichen during the winter months. They also migrate to avoid predators. In the spring, female caribou gather to calve.
Mountain goats in Alaska use the safety of high, precipitous mountains with steep terrains during spring when predators abound. Sitka black-tailed deer also migrate but instead of traveling long distances like caribou, these ungulates move from lower elevations to higher elevations. Along with providing them with safety, these areas also provide them with food, which is their primary motivation. Salmon spawn during the summer, making their way into rivers from the ocean, which perfectly delivers food sources for people and surrounding wildlife.
In spring, there is plenty of wildlife to view. Bears get back into the wild from their dens, caribou make their trek to calving regions, and fresh vegetation emerges, drawing forth a variety of animals. With the arrival of salmon in the summer, streams and rivers are a hotspot for wildlife, including bears. June invites rare birds and July is best for spotting seabird colonies. Fall is mating season for caribou, goats, moose, and muskoxen while winter is a great time to check out resident birds along with deer, mountain goats, and Dall sheep.
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