Even in these global warming days, Alaska can still make residents of the 49th state shiver in their socks.
Coming off the warmest year in state history, January 2020 slapped the residents of the Anchorage Metro area – home to more than half the state population – back to reality with below normal cold.
January 1971 leads the list of coldest Januaries with an average temperature of 2.7 degrees; so Anchorage area residents now whining about frozen pipes, frost-heaving driveways and the general aggravations of living in the subArctic should take solace in the fact this winter was 2.3 times warmer at an average of 6.2 degrees.
And the lowest temperatures, while cold, never went truly brutal as in the 1970s. Anchorage hit 35 degrees below zero – a Central Alaska kind of number – on Jan. 5, 1975, only a day after pegging minus-31.
The Weather Service’s top-10 list of coldest days pretty much summarizes what the early 70s were like. Except for Jan. 29, 1989, which sneaks into the list third with a temperature of minus-30, every day on the top-10 list comes in the years between 1972 and 1975.
The coldest it got this January was minus-11 on Jan. 6 and again on Jan. 8. The records are kept at the NWS office near Anchorage International Airport, however, and the city – not to mention the greater metro area – is notorious for its microclimates.
Some areas in the city reported hitting minus-20 to minus-25 more than once, which might well have come as a shock to teeth-chattering cheechakoes who thought 2019 with its 20.3 degree average was normal or even 2018 at 19 degrees with nary a day below zero all month.
Climate normal for Anchorage in January is 17.1 degrees, and the city proper is something of an Alaska hotspot.
One doesn’t have to go far north before temperatures start plummetting.
About 100 miles up the George Parks Highway northern edge of what the U.S. Census considers the “Anchorage metropolitan area,” the low in Talkeetna hit minus-36 on Jan. 5 and again on Jan. 8.
North of the Alaska Range mountains that split the 49th state in two, it only got colder. The 2020 cold snap there actually started at the end of December 2019 with cold, Arctic air trying to chill the bid for a record-warm 2019.
Central Alaska made national headlines when the lows officially hit 65 degrees below zero shortly after Christmas, and the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported a bone-numbing temperature of minus-72 in the Alatna Hills to the north on Dec. 27.
Most people have no idea how cold this cold. Suffice to say, if you toss your warm coffee out of the mug at this temperature, the water in it will instantly freeze and the coffee will explode into a cloud of ice.
Anchorage, thankfully for most of those who live there, never sees these sorts of temperatures, and at the end of December it was still basking in Seattle-like warmth thanks to a lingering pool of tropical air from far south in the Pacific Ocean, but that would change quickly on New Year’s Eve and be all gone by New Year’s Day.
The Weather Service is promising a warmer February. The forecast offers the possibility Anchorage could see a daytime temperatures above freezing by early next week. And February is a naturally warmer month in Anchorage than January.
Climate normal – which is the middle of a wide range in the ever-unpredictable north – rises 2.6 degrees to 19.7 in February, and last year, the month produced five days when the temperature climbed to freezing or above. The warmth might not have lasted long, but with the sun returning in the wake of summer solstice the weather felt warmer even on the days it wasn’t.