You are currently viewing Why Is 8pm AKT the Time of Fairbanks New Year’s Fireworks?

A tradition in many families and communities is to watch the New Year’s Eve fireworks. So it was when I grew up as a kid in West Germany. However, the time of Fairbanks New Year’s Eve fireworks is not at the beginning of the New Year, but still in the in the old one. No, the clock’s don’t tick different in Fairbanks. Find out why the fireworks start at the same time as in NYC at Times Square.



The Start Time of the Fairbanks New Year’s Eve Fireworks is 8 PM

Traditionally, Fairbanks has their New Year’s firework at 8 pm Alaska Standard Time which is Eastern Time minus four hours. This means the Fairbanks community watch their fireworks at the same time as the people on the East Coast. No, in Fairbanks the clocks don’t tick differently than anywhere else.

The fireworks are on the West Ridge of the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus. This location allows people to well watch it from home when they live in the University Hills, on the hills of the Goldstream Valley, and many places along the Chena River or Chena Ridge in College, and even some places downtown. For these people watching the Fairbanks New Year’s Eve fireworks is probably one the best home entertainments of the day.


West Ridge of the UAF campus at the time of Fairbanks New Year's Eve firework
Sparling explosives on the West Ridge of the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus in College. “Sparktacular” by iceflo is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0



Why at 8 PM?

At locations close to the Arctic Circle, firework displays are a challenge. In summer, the white nights are the reason for no fireworks in Fairbanks, Alaska on July 4. While in winter, light is not a problem, the radiative cooling leads to strong heat loss to space during clear winter nights. Consequently, temperatures near the Earth’s surface drop fast. Therefore, it will be much colder four hours later when the New Year starts than at 8 pm. The lower the air temperatures, the harder it is for the fire(wo)men to operate the fireworks. In the freezing temperatures, every metal freezes to your skin when you touch with bare hands. However, even when wearing gloves your fingers get cold quickly.


University of Alaska, Fairbanks by Mozul CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
“University of Alaska, Fairbanks” by Mozul is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0



Another Reason Is the Audience

People without a chance to watch the fireworks from the warmth of their homes have to go out in the cold. At -10F (-23.3oC) or even colder, you can’t stand outside for 30 minutes. Therefore, people drive towards places where they can watch the fireworks from their car. They park along side roads that are parallel to campus or allow a good view on campus.

Because cars are not built to provide an insulation from the cold outside, they loose the heat fast thru the windows and metal frame. To keep the car heating running people idle their cars. The passengers are sitting wrapped in blankets over big puffer coats watching the show. To avoid cold feet at frigid temperatures they wear Sorel boots with extra socks.

Furthermore, some people may have swap their typical Alaska clothes to what to wear for New Year’s Eve for an event they plan to attend.

Once the spectacle is over, Fairbanks faces its biggest traffic jam of the year. It’s even worse than on those days when everyone wants to take their photo in a bikini at 40 below in front of the UAF temperature display.



Why Not Earlier?

Many people drive into town for dinner on the last day of the old year. Typically, dinner reservations start at 6:30 pm or so. Consequently, people can check out just in time to find a great spot along the road to watch the display after dinner. Furthermore, most New Year’s Eve entertainment starts after 9 pm.


However, another important reason is that people should not drink and drive. An early start keeps the roads safer than a firework at mid-night.


A Random Benefit of the Early Time of the New Year’s Eve Fireworks

A benefit of the 8 pm start of the fireworks is air pollution. The closer the time of the fireworks comes to about 6 am, the higher is the likelihood that a strong inversion has already formed and stores the zinc, copper, sulfates, toxic gases, etc. in the near-surface layer. Inversions are central to Fairbanks’ air-quality problem. Why 6am?


Meteorologist: Daily minimum temperatures occur around 6 am local time.


Happy New Year!

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