Just How Cold Was It?

Posted By: Jan

February 09, 2012

We’ve passed a milestone here in Denali National Park.  Well, three actually: first, this past January was the coldest recorded since 1933.   Above you can see a graph of the average air temperature this past month.  Note the daily average was -20F.  Temps in the -40F range are not uncommon here in Alaska’s Interior, where, like other continental places, we are far from the moderating effect of the ocean.  Twice we awoke to mornings where our digital thermometers registered “---“ because they only record down to -40F.  We bottomed out at -52F. 

At those extremes, everything seems to go wrong.  I left my cabin for a week and came home to find the heater had cut out and everything, from the fire extinguishers to the cabbage in the fridge, was a solid block of ice.  Cars, for the first few miles you drive them, have tires with one square side where they have settled and frozen.  “Thuda-thuda-thunda” goes the vehicle merrily down the road.  Luckily our lodges have been winterized to protect against such limits of the mercury.  Every autumn our closing crew undertakes the project of flushing the water lines with quantities of antifreeze and boarding up the windows among other winterization projects. 

A second milestone: Alaska has had record snowfall this winter.  While the rest of the western US suffers a drought, Alaskans were literally calling in the National Guard for emergency relief.  Southeastern Alaska towns, like Valdez and Cordova, received as much as 18 feet of snow within a few weeks this past January.  Roofs collapsed.  A desperate national call for shovels was issued.  Here in Denali we have an honest two feet on the level.  While note record-breaking, it’s a really “good snow” year by local standards.  Despite the wintery conditions, summer feels close at hand.

As a third milestone, we’re now gaining 7 minutes of light a day, making for almost an hour more sunlight each week!  We have over three hours more sunlight now than we did on the winter solstice (December 21st).  The sun still sets and rises to the south, but it’s height and arc reach higher and broader each day.

It has been a walloping winter here in Alaska--unprecedented snow and cold, and, as always, darkness.  Here at our winter office at the eastern edge of the park, we anticipate in earnest the long warm days ahead and a return to our summer homes at Camp Denali and North Face Lodge.

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Denali Dispatch

It is our pleasure to present Dispatches, a journal of the goings on at Camp Denali & North Face Lodge. Written by members of our staff, Dispatches is an opportunity to peek into the special sightings notebook, brush up on Denali National Park issues, read about our ongoing projects in sustainability, and maybe get a whiff of what’s cooking in the kitchens. Dispatches will carry on through the winter, when we hope to share stories of snowy ski adventures, deep cold, and the events of a small Alaskan community.