When you think of Alaska, we wouldn’t be surprised if snow and ice are the first things that come to mind. It’s cold there, without a doubt, but how low does it go? Can you wear short sleeves in Alaska, or do you always need at least a fleece jacket? Let’s bundle up and take a close look to find out the lowest temperature in Alaska.
We All Know It Gets Cold In Alaska
So yeah, it gets cold in Alaska, and one reason is that it’s so far north. Covering more than 665,000 square miles, the vast Frontier State is by far the northernmost of the 50 United States. And it’s the farthest west, too.
As a result, the weather picture there is a complex one. It’s influenced not only by Arctic blasts from the north but also by warmer winds off the Pacific Ocean.
But even on its famously long summer days, it can certainly get chilly in Alaska. After all, this is the land of glaciers, polar bears, and the world’s most famous dog sled race.
But exactly how cold are the temperatures in Alaska? Let’s put it this way. You’ll definitely want to pack a sweater and maybe a parka. And, depending on where you’re going – and when – it’s a good idea to brush up on your emergency survival skills.
What Is the Weather Like in Alaska?
There’s an old joke in Alaska that goes like this. Alaska has four seasons: winter, June, July, and August.
That’s not exactly true, as Alaska does experience the four seasons. But temperatures may not be very different when you take a close look at thermometer readings from around the state. These are averages, but here’s what you can generally expect, including the lowest temperatures, from season to season.
The thawing out in Alaska is gradual, so March can still see lows below zero and highs barely reaching into the 40s. By the end of May, the picture is more pleasant, with average highs approaching the 60s but lows still in the teens at times.
On average, springtime temperatures in Alaska range from around 30 degrees Fahrenheit up to the mid-40s. Overall, it’s dry in the spring, with only southeastern Alaska getting significant rain. Wetter days and nights are yet to come.
Summer is your best chance to shed some of those layers of clothing, and you’ll also learn first-hand why they call Alaska “the land of the midnight sun.” Because of its latitude and the sun’s angle, Alaska has 16 hours of daylight or more in the summer. It reaches its peak during the summer solstice in June, when areas far north don’t see any darkness at all.
In June, July, and August, you can generally enjoy highs in the 60s and 70s, and the lowest temperatures in the Fahrenheit 40s. This is also the rainier time in Alaska, particularly toward late summer and into the fall.
By September, you can count on a better chance of rain, but overall, the weather is somewhat unpredictable. There is usually a beautiful period of “Indian Summer” before wintry conditions fully arrive.
In October and November, you’ll see some snow but not a lot, and the lowest temperatures will be in the 30s and 40s Fahrenheit. This is also when the days start to get shorter, eventually plunging much of the state into almost total darkness.
Many Alaskans consider winter to start in October and stretch into the first real warm sun rays in March. But officially, it’s December, January, and February, of course. During those months, you can expect frequent lows as dramatic as -30 degrees Fahrenheit below in some areas.
Coastal areas, however, are more likely to see averages around 20 degrees Fahrenheit. The abundant snowfall puts outdoor activities like skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, and sledding at their peak.
Pro Tip: Warm up no matter the season by soaking in one of these 7 Amazing Hot Springs in Alaska You Need to Visit.
What Was the Lowest Temperature Ever Recorded in Alaska?
Brace yourself for this: the lowest temperature ever recorded in Alaska was nearly 80 below zero degrees Fahrenheit.
For the record, the official temp was -79.8 degrees Fahrenheit (-62 degrees Celsius), but it’s often rounded down to -80 degrees. This is a record that’s stood for more than half a century. It happened on Jan. 23, 1971, at Prospect Creek, about 180 miles north of Fairbanks.
What Region Gets the Lowest Temperatures in Alaska?
Not surprisingly, the farther north you go in Alaska, the colder it gets. The coldest region is North Alaska, which is above the Arctic Circle and so remote it’s accessible only by plane. The one exception is the Dalton Highway, which goes to the Prudhoe Bay oil field. This road is turned into an ice road for truckers moving supplies along the Alaska Pipeline.
This is where the sun sometimes doesn’t rise at all during the long, cold winters. Even in the summer, temperatures can hover just above freezing even with 24 hours of sunshine.
Can You Find Snow in Alaska Year-Round?
Though Alaska sometimes gets significant snowfalls in the summer, it’s a myth that the snow regularly falls throughout the year. In higher elevations, you can always find snow and ice that hasn’t melted. That’s why you see so many photos and videos of mountains covered in snowy peaks and glaciers.
It’s a good guess that many of these iconic images were likely captured in spring, summer, or fall. That’s when it’s comfortable enough to get outside and enjoy these spectacular sights but not so warm that the snow melts.
However, the ice fields and glaciers in Alaska’s famous peaks have been steadily receding for decades.
How Do People Survive the Cold in Alaska?
Once the temperatures start dropping, around October, Alaskans prepare themselves for what could be a harsh and dangerous few months. For survival’s sake, it’s a good idea to take some critical cues from the locals.
They know to dress in layers for optimum warmth, of course. They also know how to build fires or shelter if stranded outdoors unexpectedly.
A winter road trip survival kit might include clothing items such as wool socks, knit caps, gloves, and foul-weather gear. It’s a good idea to have a thermos or metal bottle on hand and something to cook in. You should also pack extra water and food, including freeze-dried items such as MREs or other emergency foodstuffs.
Would you live in Alaska year-round if someone paid you? Well, they would. Learn more here!
What Is the Highest Temperature Ever Recorded in Alaska?
On the other end of the spectrum, blazing-hot temperatures can happen in Alaska, too. In recent years, Anchorage and Fairbanks have more frequently seen temperatures rising into the 80s and 90s.
This isn’t Arizona by any stretch of the imagination, but Alaska’s highest recorded temperature isn’t too far off the mark. Surprisingly, the hotspot is a few miles north of the Arctic Circle, at Fort Yukon. That’s where they recorded Alaska’s all-time-high temperature reading of 100 degrees on June 27, 1915.
Pro Tip: Want to go wildlife spotting while in Alaska? We took a closer look to discover Are There Penguins in Alaska?
What Is the Best Time of Year to Visit Alaska?
Avoiding the extreme highs and lows is definitely a factor in deciding when to visit Alaska, but there are other considerations. One question is, how many hours a day will the sun be out? Another is whether you have a good chance of seeing the Northern Lights. In other words, it kind of depends on where exactly you’re going and what you want to be doing. Each season has its pros and cons.
It’s still pretty chilly in the spring, but new life awakens from its long hibernation. Fall has much more rain, but the fall colors are spectacular on the tundra. Summer is the most popular time to experience Alaska in all its natural glory, but the crowds are bigger. The more inviting temperatures and extra hours of daylight mean more time to see the spectacular sights and abundant wildlife.
Sure, it gets cold in Alaska in the winter, but if you want to experience some quintessential Alaska traditions, you may want to plan a winter Alaska vacation to see the Iditarod, the aurora borealis, and more. On the plus side, the mosquitos aren’t out in the wintertime!
What season would you like to visit Alaska in? Tell us in the comments!
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Sunday 19th of February 2023
It’s a dry cold…
Before I retired, I rode my motorcycle sidecar rig year around in Fairbanks. Studded tires, had tire chains for heavier snow. Even got in the local paper as I was hauling my trash can in the sidecar to the transfer station at -45°F.
Mortons on the Move
Wednesday 22nd of February 2023
No way that's wild!
Saturday 18th of February 2023
OK article, I have never heard the "four seasons" comment. Those of us up say two seasons "winter and construction" Mike