The Frozen North: Winter Weather in Alaska

The Cold Weather is Coming

Image credit: Advertisement for the Fairbanks Clothing Company from the November 10, 1919 issue of the Weekly Alaska Citizen.

Alaska is known for its cold weather winters- infamous, even! While southeast Alaska endures cold, rainy winters, the Interior generally drops temperatures into the minus Fahrenheit range. Additionally, due to its northern longitude, wintertime in Alaska means very little daylight. Sunlight hours can range anywhere between 7-4 per day in the winter months, and in Utqiavik (formerly Barrow) above the Arctic Circle, daylight is not seen from November 18 to January 22.

Historical newspapers are a valuable source of information regarding winter weather and severity of snow storms. Below are but a small sample that chronicle how Alaska citizens dealt with blizzards and freezing temperatures from all across the state:

Buried By Snow Slide: Ralph Pulver Loses His Life; Yanks Are Guiltless of Crime; Alaska is Discussed; Anchorage Man Victim

Image credit: From the February 1, 1919 issue of the Seward Gateway Daily Edition and the Alaska Weekly Post.

Taku Wind is on a Rampage: Alaska Juneau Fence Blown Down-- Waterfront Closely Watched. Chechakos have had full benefits of initiation in the mysteries of the famous Taku wind, through yesterday and today. Hats appeared to suffer the most of anything, but aside from such annoyance is the serious havoc caused along the waterfront. While no serious damage has been done the small boats, close watch is being kept by the owners. It is said the Alaska-Juneau breakwater is a great aid during the stormy weather. All boats are remaining in port and will wait until the Taku calms before starting out. A part of the fence surrounding the Alaska-Juneau dock was blown down yesterday by the strength of the wind. Old-timers say that when the signs from buildings begin to fly through the air and pedestrians crawl along the streets the Taku wind will be on a real tear. Woof! B-r-r-r-r! Cold Wave Is Predicted for Here: The lowest temperature in the last two years is likely to be experienced in Juneau tomorrow morning, according to the Weather Bureau's forecast of today. Meteorologist Summers predicts that the mercury will drop to about 5 degrees by morning, and advises those who have exposed plumbing to take care of it tonight. At 2 p.m. today the thermometer stood at 15 above zero, which was a drop of 7 degrees since 8 o'clock this morning. Winds of gale force are likely to continue during the next 24 hours, according to the forecast. These are due, Mr. Summers says, to the great difference in pressure over Alaska today. At Tanana, in the Middle Yukon Valley, the barometer at 8 a.m. read 30.92 inches, with a temperature of 44 below zero, while at Prince Rupert, which was apparently the center of the low pressure area, the pressure was 29.00 inches, with a temperature of 36 above.

Image credit: From the February 6, 1922 issue of the Alaska Daily Empire.

january snow storm daily alaskan 3-9-1916

Image credit: The daily Alaskan. (Skagway, Alaska), 09 March 1916. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn82014189/1916-03-09/ed-1/seq-3/>

Mr. Connolly gave a graphic description of a blizzard on the Valdez trail in Thompson Pass, in which he and ten companions were nearly frozen to death on January 10 this year. A storm which came up suddenly marooned the party in a narrow gulch, and during the night four of their horses were frozen to death. Pushing ahead in the morning, with the blizzard still raging, it took the party eight hours to travel seven miles. As three of the men with Connolly were trying to get their bearings they fell from a precipice, turned three times in the air and lit uninjured in a deep snow bank. A woman, Mrs. Arthur Williams, was one of the party that faced the blizzard and, according to Mr. Connolly, stood the cold and privation better than anyone else.

Image credit: Valdez daily prospector. (Valdez, Alaska), 22 Feb. 1913. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn98060264/1913-02-22/ed-1/seq-4/>

A regular old-time January blow and snow storm started last night and has been raging in all its fury today. As we have had exceptionally fine weather thus far this winter the change was not unexpected.

Image credit: The Cordova daily times. (Cordova, Alaska), 12 Jan. 1923. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn86072239/1923-01-12/ed-1/seq-8/>

The Storm at Nome: The city of Nome was threatened with destruction on the night of January 3, when a terrific storm drove the ice of Bering sea and piled it into mountains against the doors of the buildings on the beach side of Front street. In places the ices was piled up for more than fifty feet, and towered above the buildings so that one standing on Front street could look over the tops of the houses at great glacial peaks rising from within a few feet of the boarded thoroughfares. The Sesnon caisson and pier, which have withstood all the storms of years, were crushed like eggshells. For a time the people believed that only a few more houses would be necessary to have the whole business part of the city buried under the ice mountain which rose as the storm drove it in from the ocean. A howling blizzard made matters worse. Above and below the city vast piles of ice were heaped to great elevations on the tundra. Along Front street the sea was shut out from view at Barracks square by the great ice mountain ridge. At the mouth of Snake river and along the spit vast bergs piled on top of each other.

Image credit: Iditarod pioneer. (Iditarod, Alaska), 05 Feb. 1916. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn95060032/1916-02-05/ed-1/seq-3/>

Heavy Blizzard Rages Along Railroad Route: A severe snowstorm and blizzard hit the Interior north of Mile 51 early yesterday afternoon and at noon today is still raging, says the Seward Gateway of January 28. The storm swept along the divide from the Prince William sound region and hit along the railroad at Mile 51, continuing through to Anchorage and directly into the Interior. The snow is wet and heavy. The party of Alaskan engineering commission men headed by F. H. Hansen was ten hours with four dog teams making it from Mile 71 to Mile 68. At the latter place there was a lull in the storm and the party headed for Mile 54, reaching there early this morning. At 10 o'clock this morning the party left Mile 54 for Mile 52, and then started from the latter place to the special train waiting to bring them to Seward. The special train, consisting of a locomotive and the private car, had a hard time with the snow drifts, but made the distance finally and picked up the railroad party this forenoon and started toward Seward, bucking the drifts successfully. The special is expected here this afternoon, landing the Anchorage party in time to catch the Alaska for the south. The storm in the Interior was not felt in Seward.

Image credit: The Cordova daily times. (Cordova, Alaska), 04 Feb. 1918. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn86072239/1918-02-04/ed-1/seq-1/>

Be sure to bundle up and stay warm over these next few months!

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