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See there is no such thing like Alaska’s climate

#FocusAlaska Mean monthly precipitation (blue) and temperature (red) at Fairbanks, AK
#fashionover40 mature woman in chinos
Oliveo chinos, Great Northwest denim jacket, Brooke Brothers sweater, Kieselstein Cord belt, Tommy Hilfiger sandals, and Jaeger tote (all own)

Alaskans’ clothing style in the public prejudice

In 2012, Travel & Leisure published a poll that named Anchorage the worsted-dressed city in America. Many people explained the ranking by “it being Alaska,” i.e. the last Frontier and/or “Alaska’s cold climate.” In today’s post, I will explain why arguing with Alaska as a place and/or Alaska’s cold climate is plain wrong. In a future post, I will provide evidence why people in Anchorage – and Alaska at-large – are dressing well.

Why Alaska is no explanation for being worst dressed

First, Anchorage is not Alaska. It just happens to be the city in Alaska where the majority of the Alaskans live. Juneau, the second most populated city, has the largest area. It winds along the fjord with steep glacier covered mountains to one side and water to the other. Fairbanks has the third most inhabitants and is located in the wide valley of the Tanana Flats with the White Mountains and Brookes Range to the North and the Alaska Range to the south.

#styleover40 mature woman in casual work outfit
Side view of Oliveo chinos, Great Northwest denim jacket, Brooke Brothers sweater, Kieselstein Cord belt, statement buckle, Tommy Hilfiger sandals, and Jaeger tote (all own)

Alaska has more than one climate


Second, there is no such thing as Alaska’s cold climate. Alaska when projected onto the Lower 48s reaches from coast to coast. For my European readers, Alaska is larger than Europe from the Ural to Portugal. Given the size, it is obvious that Alaska has a variety of climate regions. They are called climate divisions by the National Weather Service. These climate divisions refer to areas of similar landscape, topography, vegetation, and similar meteorological conditions (temperature, humidity, wind, precipitation).

#FocusAlaska Alaska shown at the same scale as the Lower 48s
Alaska show at the same scale as the Lower 48s
#FocusAlaska Alaska climate divisions according to NWS
Map of the 13 climate divisions recognized by the US National Weather Service. Retrieved from NOAA (2016)

Alaska has three main climates

The Köppen-Geiger classification distinguishes three main climates in Alaska, namely warm temperate (C), snow (D), and polar climate (E). These climate regions are subdivided with respect to summer and winter temperature ranges and further subdivided with respect to when precipitation occur, i.e., year round (f), dry summer (s), or dry winter (w). In Alaska, these climate sub-classifications have shifted since onset of recording, and the borders are fluent.

Alaska’s climates in comparison to elsewhere

Warm temperate also called maritime climate exists in Southeast Alaska along the Panhandle. Here the polar front leads to changeable weather with overcast sky and year round precipitation (f). Southeast Alaska’s summers are cool due to the cool ocean currents and winters are milder (b) than in regions of similar latitude due to the high heat capacity of the close ocean. This means that the climate in Ketchikan (Cfb), for instance, is similar to that in Bergen (Norway), London (UK), Zürich (Switzerland), Paris (France), Melbourne (Australia), Auckland (New Zealand), or Sky Valley (Georgia, USA).

#FocusAlaska Mean monthly precipitation (blue) and temperature (red) at Fairbanks, AK
Monthly mean precipitation (blue bars) and mean air temperature (red curve) at Fairbanks, Alaska

#FocusAlaska Monthly mean precipitation (blue) and temperature (red) at Juneau, AK
Monthly mean precipitation (blue bars) and mean air temperature (red curve) at Juneau, Alaska
#FocusAlaska Monthly mean precipitation (blue) and temperature (red) at Anchorage, AK
Monthly mean precipitation (blue bars) and mean air temperature (red curve) at Anchorage, Alaska

#FocusAlaska Monthly mean precipitation (blue) and temperature (red) at Barrow, AK
Monthly mean precipitation (blue bars) and mean air temperature (red curve) at Barrow, Alaska

The climate of the Interior (Dfc) is subarctic (D) with long, very cold winters, and (too) short, cool summers (c), in which the most of the precipitation occurs. Precipitation occurs year round (f). Thus, the Interior and, hence, Fairbanks have similar climate as Norisk (Russia) or Mohe (China).

The North Slope has cold, dry polar tundra climate (ET). Summers are cool. In July, the warmest month, mean minimum and maximum temperatures at Barrow, for instance, are 35F (2oC) and 47F (8oC), respectively. The combination of cold air and strong wind makes winters dangerous on the North Slope. The annual total precipitation is about 4.49 inches (114 mm). Snow can occur year round. Precipitation peaks in August with July and September having the second and third most precipitation.

#fashionover50 mature woman in casual work outfit with denim jacket
Other view of casual work outfit with Oliveo chinos, Great Northwest denim jacket, Brooke Brothers sweater, Kieselstein Cord belt, statement snake tail buckle, Tommy Hilfiger sandals, and Jaeger tote (all own)

Anchorage’s winters are cold, but much warmer than those in the Interior. Anchorage has a climate with a strong, sub-polar maritime component similar to that in Murmansk (Russia). Due to the maritime influence, winters are relatively moderate in Anchorage because its climate borders sub-polar oceanic climate. Anchorage’s precipitation occurs year round with a distinct maximum in summer. Except for the precipitation aspect Anchorage’s climate is more similar to that of Reykjavik (Iceland) or Tórshavn (Faroe Islands) than to that of Fairbanks.

What kind of climate do you have where you live? Hot summers and cold winters or warm summers and cool winters? Do you have precipitation year round or a distinct dry and wet season? Send me an email, I am curious.

When you found this post interesting please share it with your friends by tweeting them to read this post on Alaska’s climates.

You may also like to read about Chinook or rain days in Alaska.

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Photos: G. Kramm (2016)
Graphics: N. Mölders (2016)

Copyright 2013-2016 Nicole Mölders | All rights reserved

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