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Alaska winters may be cold, but it could be worse

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Posted: Sunday, November 6, 2011 9:45 am | Updated: 1:34 pm, Wed Jan 16, 2013.

DELTA JUNCTION, Alaska - I hate to admit it, but Alaska finally has me in its cold, icy grips. This is the grip that drives greenhorns south. The grip that sourdoughs revel in while talking about how long they’ve lived here with their superior pose and a twinkle in their eyes.

I’m not happy about it.

It’s not that I don’t love this state in all its wonderful whiteness, but this year I am positively jaded by the arrival of winter. It seems like we didn’t have the greatest summer and now we’re facing seven months of winter.

It doesn’t help that in late September I got to travel to a place that was positively bursting with green and was still bursting with green when I left it in October. It doesn’t help that the wood in my yard still has to be bucked, split and stacked. It doesn’t help that I just got off the phone with my sister-in- law who lives in Michigan and is heading out for a 20 mile bike ride in 60 degree weather.

Bitter, party of one, your table is ready.

OK — got that off my chest. Now, let’s take a trip around the globe to see where it could be worse.

In the Lower 48, International Falls, Minn., and Fraser, Colo., have long duked it out for the title of “Icebox of the Nation.” The record low for International Falls is minus 55 degrees set on Jan. 6, 1909. In Fraser the record low is minus 53 degrees. The average high for Fraser in January is 28.5 degrees and the low for January is around minus 5.4 degrees.

In International Falls in January one could expect an average high temperature around 13.8 and an average low around minus 8.4. (That makes International Falls colder — they win.) But Fairbanks records indicate even colder averages. In January we can expect an average high of around 0 degrees and an average low around minus 19 degrees.

The record cold for Fairbanks is minus 66.

There are climate tables out there that suggest Fairbanks has the record for the widest span of temperature: 99 degrees in summer and minus 66 degrees in winter for a span of 165 degrees (I’m starting to feel proud.) But this doesn’t come close to the climate records from Verkhoyansk in Siberia, where the lowest recorded temperature is minus 94 degrees and the record high is 98 degrees — a span of 192 degrees. Now that’s a span to brag about.

Alaska holds a lot of distinctions when it comes to cold weather records.

Barrow can boast the title of coldest year-round climate in the United States with an average mean temperature of 10.4 degrees. Of course, the coldest temperature ever recorded in Alaska was minus 80 on Jan. 23, 1971 at Prospect Creek on the Dalton Highway. This is not far off the record low for North America held by Snag, Yukon. The thermometer bottomed out at minus 81.4 on Feb. 3, 1947, a record that stands some 40 years later.

In the “it could be worse” category we make a nod to Oymyakon, Russia, a place commonly referred to as “one of the coldest inhabited places on earth.” This village of a few hundred people endures an average winter temperature of minus 49 degrees while the record low is minus 96.2. They don’t close the school until the temperature reaches minus 61 degrees, and not surprisingly, not much grows there. The locals rely on reindeer farming, ice fishing and hunting to sustain them.

We in Alaska are proud of our harsh climate, and I guess I just needed to remind myself of the uniqueness of our state extremes (the coldest I’ve ever seen is minus 60.) Oh, and I want to give a shoutout to Tok, which endures some pretty harsh temps in the winter and dubs itself the “coldest inhabited community in North America with warm, friendly people.”

Good luck, Tok. Better you than me.

My mukluks are by the door, my parka is out and my attitude is adjusted. I think I’m ready for winter Girl in the Woods.

Brookelyn Bellinger is an independent filmmaker and author of the book “The Frozen Toe Guide to Real Alaskan Livin’.” Send your questions to

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