How cold does it get?

Ron Niebrugge Alaska, Photos, Travel, Wrangell-St. Elias 6 Comments

Snow and ice on the Wrangell Mountains, Alaska.

How cold does it get?  How much snow do you get?  What is it like in the winter?  What about the darkness?  These have to be the most asked questions by visitors to Alaska each summer, and ones I will try to also answer here over the next couple of days.  Funny, I was asking people the opposite questions in Arizona recently. 

Seward, where I live now doesn’t get very cold thanks to being located next to the ocean.  It is unusual to drop below zero for any extended period of time.  Much of the lower 48 is often colder then Seward.  Even parts of Arizona are consistently colder.  Unfortunately when it is cold in Seward, it is usually very windy as well making it feel pretty nasty.

Now where I grew up was one of the colder parts of Alaska.  On two occasions I actually saw 72 degrees below zero F on the thermometer – not just chill factor, but the real deal!  I think I might have a photo of the thermometer, I will have to dig through my old slides from when I was a child.  The amazing thing, we weren’t even the state low!  It was just a few years earlier that the states all-time low of -80 degrees was set near Coldfoot.  In the 80’s Coldfoot had an unoffical low of -82!  Coldfoot, now there’s a town with an understated name! 

 If you pass by the visitor center in Delta Junction you will see a large painted thermomiter on the side of their visitor Center with each winters low temperature painted on it like some kind of badge of courage.  I noticed during that same period in the late 70’s they also hit a low of -72.  I thought it was interesting they were the exact temperature we were a 100 miles away.  The late 70’s – I may have just betrayed my attempt to sound and appear youthful!

I liked those extreme temps as it meant school was closed.  The official temperature was announced each morning by the radio station, and if it was colder then -50, there was no school.  Our house was usually about 10 degrees colder then the radio station which was located on the highest hill around.  So once we hit about -60 I would turn on the radio and anxiously await the announcement.  One winter school was closed so much that they finally lowered the closing temperature to – 55.  I was bummed – that meant when it was -60 at the house I still had to go to school.  At that temperature, it took over a half hour to start my truck, and then anyone who drove to school had to start and leave their vehicles running every other class period or they would never start at the end of the day.  At the time I grumbled, although looking back on it today it really sounds crazy!  They would never send kids to school today if it ever got that cold!

This photo is from the nearby Wrangell Mountains.  It takes extreme weather to get cool looking mountains like that.

Comments 6

  1. So how do you stay alive when the temperatures are that extreme, Do you guys have to wear those astronaut suits? I went to the Omaha Steaks headquarters in Nebraska a couple years ago and the freezers there are like -60 degrees, the guy who got the steaks for us was this huge obese guy but he said that he woudln’t last 3 seconds in there without his astronaut suit.

  2. Post

    Hi Richard,

    Yeah you are right – I used to joke that I looked like an astronaut when I went outside. We had giant snowsuits, huge gloves and lots of hats. It took about 5 minutes to get dressed!

  3. One other question you often hear on the docks of Seward, while visitors stare up at the majestic peaks – ” What’s the elevation here?”

    that one never gets old.

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    That’s true – I have received that question a lot as well. Some people refuse to believe it is sea level even after you point to the ocean!

  5. I was on the 4 man crew pioneering the path to Prudhoe from the Yukon River in 1971 I think ( can’t remember many things at 73) and we were at coldfoot when several thermometers recorded 72 degrees below. That was the only day we did not work. Often the helo would not fly when temps fell below minus 40 due to the possibility of metal fatigue. We were then left to our own devises without shelter all night in the weather. Thank heaven it wasn’t that night.

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    Hey L Siegel Thanks for sharing – that sounds crazy! Having just spent time on the haul road and in Coldfoot last month, I find it hard to imagine what it took to build that road. Thanks for sharing!

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