Traditionally, Fairbanks has their New Year’s firework at 8 pm Alaska Standard Time which is Eastern Time minus four hours. This means the Fairbanksans 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 in Alaska.
Fireworks at below zero temperatures
The fireworks are on the West Ridge of the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus. This location allows Fairbanksans to well watch it from home when they live in the University Hills, on the hills of Goldstream, and many places along the Chena River, Chena Ridge, and College. We can see them from our living room.
Those people who don’t have the opportunity to watch the fireworks from the warmth of their homes have to go out in the cold. You can’t stand for 30 minutes in the cold of the night at -10F ( -23.3oC) or even colder than that. Thus, 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. They are idling their cars to keep the heating running. They are sitting wrapped in blankets over big puffer coats and Sorel boots with extra socks in their cars watching the fireworks. Once the fireworks are over, Fairbanks faces its one and only traffic jam in a year when everyone is heading home.
Why at 8 pm?
In clear winter nights, radiative cooling leads to strong heat loss to space. Thus, temperatures near the Earth’s surface drop fast. This means it will be much colder four hours later when the New Year starts than at 8 pm. This means that the poor fire(wo)men have to handle the fireworks at even lower temperatures. Recall that at these freezing temperatures every metal you touch with bare hands freezes to your skin. To handle the fireworks you need gloves. However, at these low temperatures your fingers get quickly cold when you wear gloves instead of mittens.
Another reason is the audience. Cars are not built to provide an insulation from the cold outside. They loose the heat fast thru the windows and metal frame. Thus, when the car heating is not able to replace the heat as fast as the car looses it to the outside environment, the air in the car is chilly despite of the heating running.
Thus, why not earlier?
Many people drive into town for dinner on New Year’s Eve. Typically dinner reservations start at 6:30 pm or so. Thus, people can check out just in time to find a great spot to watch the fireworks after dinner. Most dance or New Year’s Eve parties do not start before 9 pm. Thus, people can come early to town to watch the fireworks and then go to where ever they want to party.
However, another important reason is that people should not drink and drive. Thus, an early firework keeps the roads saver than a firework at mid-night.
I assume the following benefit was not included when the organizers picked 8 pm for the fireworks years ago. The closer the time of the fireworks comes to about 6 am, the higher is the likelihood that the zinc, copper, sulfates, toxic gases, and who knows what else is captured in the near-surface layer by a strong inversion and contributes to Fairbanks’ air-pollution problem. Recall night time minimum temperatures occur around 6 am local time.
You can read more about fireworks in Alaska, and Fairbanks’ air-pollution problem, and next Monday here on High Latitude Style in the Focus Alaska series. Focus Alaska is a weekly series here on High Latitude Style featuring Alaska curiosa, lifestyle, wildlife, street style, weather, and insider travel tips.
I am wearing my tweed skirt with a berry pink sweater. I really love the combination of gray and pink lately as you can see also in my post on how to wear pink over 40. I went for a classic vibe with gray tights that have a flannel inside and gray slouchy boots that permit an extra pair of socks.
To enhance the insulation from the cold, I wrapped a light gray with pink and white blanket scarf around my gray shearling coat for my outerwear outfit. The white picks up the white of the hat. The fuchsia bag matches as fuchsia is just another shade of pink.
Do you wear pink in winter?
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Photos: G. Kramm
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