Map from Google - Alaska
Alaska, the largest of the United States with more than 650,000 square miles, largely deserves its reputation as an icy land, but it also has maritime and wet areas, less cold than you might think. Given its size and the fact that it's detached from the rest of the United States, we will treat it separately.
The northern and western coasts
and the islands of the Bering Sea (St. Paul, St. George and St. Lawrence) have a subarctic climate, with frosty winters and short summers, which remain very cool if not cold. This is the area of the tundra
. Along the northern and the north-west side, up to the Bering Strait, the temperatures are lower than the western coast, especially in winter, both for the higher latitude and because the sea remains frozen for many months. In addition, this area is influenced by the frigid Siberian air masses, which can easily arrive here, moving from west to east.
At Point Hope, on the north-western tip of Alaska, the average temperature in February (which at these latitudes is the coldest month) is -9.5 °F, while that of July is 45.5 °F. On the north coast, at Point Barrow, it ranges from -13.5 °F in February to 41 °F in July, while further east, in Barter Island, it ranges from -19.5 °F in February to 41 °F in July.
Here are the average temperatures of Barrow.
Average temperatures - Barrow
In this coastal area, precipitation, which occur mostly in the form of snow, except in summer, is scarce, being slightly more than 12 inches per year in the west, and even less, that is just above 4 in, on the north coast. Here is the average precipitation in Barrow.
Average precipitation - Barrow
On the north coast, the sea is frozen solid for much of the year, when the temperature is equal or below 28 ° F.
Sea temperature - Barrow
Along the west coast, as you move south, both the temperature and precipitation increase. In Nome
, the average temperature goes from 5 °F in January to 52 °F in July.
Average temperatures - Nome
Precipitation in Nome amounts to 17 inches per year, with a minimum in spring and a maximum in summer. Here is the average precipitation.
Average precipitation - Nome
In the western part of the coast, the sea is usually frozen from December to April, while the temperature reaches 50 °F in August.
Sea temperature - Nome
More to the south, in Cape Newenham the temperatures go from 16.5 °F in January to 50 °F in July; precipitation amounts to 36.5 inches per year (with a minimum between February and April and a maximum between July and October), while snow (in total 6.5 feet per year) usually falls from October to May.
In the Alaska Peninsula
, which lies further south and therefore has a less cold winter, the vegetation is still tundra-like, that is made of mosses and lichens, due to the summer which remains cold. In Cold Bay, the average goes from 27.5 °F in February to 51.5 °F in August. Here are the average temperatures.
Average temperatures - Cold Bay
Here precipitation amounts to 36 inches per annum. Here is the average precipitation.
Average precipitation - Cold Bay
In the central and western part of the Alaska Peninsula, typically the sea does not freeze in winter, but sometimes it can happen, at least on the north coast and during the coldest winters. Here is the sea temperature in Cold Bay.
Sea temperature - Cold Bay
The Aleutian Islands
are even milder, but they still have a tundra vegetation, because of their cold maritime climate, which is reminiscent of Iceland: cold but not too much in winter (the averages are around 28/32 °F in winter) and very cool in summer, with frequent precipitation throughout the year, but especially in autumn. During winter, heavy snowfalls occur. Even in midsummer, the maximum temperatures are similar to those of Cold Bay, around 55/56 °F.
The vast interior region
of Alaska has a markedly continental climate, with frosty winters, and short but mild summer, with a few hot days. Here the dominant vegetation is the taiga (coniferous forest).
The cold records of Alaska (which contend with some areas of Canada those of all North America) have occurred in this area, and in particular in the valley of the Yukon and its tributaries, where the cold air during winter easily stagnates, especially after the cold outbreaks from Siberia or the North Pole. Here the temperature reached as low as -80 °F in Prospect Creek, -74 °F in McGrath and Chandalar Lake, -71 °F in Eagle and Tetlin, -69 °F in Arctic Village and Bettles, -62 °F in Fairbanks.
Apart from the records, the climate of this region is, as mentioned above, strongly continental, so that in winter, lows around -22 °F are normal, while in summer, from June to August, highs are around 68/72 °F, with peaks of more than 85 °F, while nights remain generally cool, and sometimes cold. It may seem incredible, but in the center of Alaska sometimes the temperature can reach 95 °F!
In this area, the temperature rises above freezing around the end of April, and drops again below this point in October.
Here are the average temperatures of Fairbanks.
Average temperatures - Fairbanks
Precipitation in this area is not abundant, so that it ranges from 10 to 13.5 inches per year, with a relative maximum in summer, due to the higher amount of heat, and therefore energy, which is available in this period.
Here is the average precipitation in Fairbanks.
Average precipitation - Fairbanks
In the mountain regions
, we find glaciers and permanent snow. The Alaska Range reaches its peak in Mount McKinley, towering with its 20,321 feet. In the mountain slopes exposed to moist winds coming from the sea, every year large amounts of snow accumulate. Due to both the facts that snowfalls are heavy and summers are cool, the snowline is very low: as a matter of fact, in some areas the glaciers, which by their weight tend to slide slowly downward, flow even into the sea.
Let us now talk about the south coast
of Alaska. Here you can find different microclimates, depending on slope exposure and distance from the sea, but in general, winter is cold (but less than in the continental area) and summer is mild, with highs around 63/68 °F. Rainfall (and snowfall in winter) is abundant in south and west facing slopes.
is located in a sheltered bay, so that precipitation amounts 17 inches per year; snow falls from October to April (the total amount of snow that falls in a year is still close to 6.5 feet).
Here is the average precipitation.
Average precipitation - Anchorage
The January daily mean is 16 °F (like in Moscow, Russia), while in July it's 60.5 °F.
Average temperatures - Anchorage
At Anchorage, and along the southern coast of Alaska, the sea is cold in winter, but does not freeze.
Sea temperature - Anchorage
Further east, and south of the Wrangell Mountains, Valdez
is famous for being a very snowy city: even 27 feet of snow per year fall, but in the winter of 1989-1990 a total of 46 feet of snow was recorded! The snow is shoveled and piled in heaps as high as houses, which can last until July. Here the average temperature in January is 21 °F, while in July it's 55.5 °F; rainfall amounts to 67 inches per year, evenly distributed, but with a relative minimum in May and June.
In south-eastern Alaska
, west of the Canadian province of British Columbia, the climate and the natural environment are similar to that of the west coast of Norway: in the sea a warm current flows (so that its temperature doesn't drop below 44.5 °F even in winter), and the climate is cold maritime, with abundant rainfalls (and winter snowfalls as well) on the coasts, but also with islands (see the Alexander Archipelago), fjords and deep coves within which there may be more or less humid microclimates, depending on slope exposure.
Here lies the state capital of Alaska, Juneau
, which has freezing winters (the average in January is 27.5 °F), and cool summers (with highs in July of about 64 °F).
Average temperatures - Juneau
In Juneau, precipitation is abundanti, being about 62 inches per year, with a peak from August to December, snowfall is abundant and occurs from late October to early April (86 inches per year). March and April are the sunniest months, while September, October and November are the cloudiest ones.
Here is the average precipitation.
Average precipitation - Juneau
At Juneau and along the southeast coast, the sea temperature is similar to that of Anchorage and the south coast.
Sea temperature - Juneau
If down to a certain latitude precipitation occurs in the form of snow for many months, so that the snow depth can be remarkable, in the southern part it can occur in the form of rain even in winter. In Ketchikan
, the southernmost city of Alaska, precipitation amounts to almost 13 feet per year, with a maximum in October (when even 22 inches of rain fall), and a minimum in June and July (when rainfall is still about 7.4 inches per month). Throughout the year, "only" 40 inches of snow fall (from November to March), certainly not much compared with the huge amount of precipitation that occurs in the cold half of the year.
Here is the average precipitation.
Average precipitation - Ketchikan
The average temperature in Ketchikan ranges from 33.5 °F in January, to 58.5 °F in August.
Average temperatures - Ketchikan
When to go
In general, the best season to visit Alaska is summer
, from June to August. It's cold along the northern and north-western coast, but at least it's above freezing. It's very cool on the remaining western coasts and the islands (with a daily average around 50 °F). In inland areas, it's mild to warm during the day, and sometimes even hot, but at night it gets cool, and sometimes even cold. In the southern coast, where the major cities (Anchorage, Juneau) are located, the air is mild, but you should be equipped for the cold when embarking (maybe to spot orcas and whales) or approaching closer to the glaciers.
June is the best month in most of the country, except the north coast: it's just cooler than July and August, but more sunny, and has fewer rainy days. However, in the northern coast, where normally it doesn't rain much, in July and August you can take advantage of a temperature a little higher (see the averages of Barrow). Recall that in Alaska the summer declines pretty quickly, so that usually July has more rains than June, and August more than July.
During the thaw (April in the south, May in inland areas, June in the northern coast), the turning of snow into mud makes difficult traveling outside of towns and cities.
To visit Alaska in its winter look, February and March, usually quite sunny in the central and northern regions, are preferable to December and January, because they have longer days.
What to pack
: cold weather clothing, especially for the interior region, synthetic thermal long underwear, fleece or synchilla, down filled parka with insulated hood, wind jacket in Goretex, warm boots, hand and foot warmers, liner socks, fleece socks. For the south-east, less heavy clothes, sweater, down jacket, rain jacket or umbrella.
: clothes for spring and autumn, T-shirts for hot days, jacket and sweater for the evening. For the north, the mountains and for hiking in the sea or in glaciers: rain jacket, down jacket and warm clothes.