Alaska, the largest state of the United States with a surface of more than 1.7 million square kilometers (650,000 square miles), largely deserves its reputation of a cold land, but it also has maritime and wet areas, less cold than you might think.


The north coast

North Coast

The north and northwest coasts have a subarctic climate, with long and frigid 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, down to the Bering Strait, temperatures are lower than in 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 of February (which at these latitudes is the coldest month) is -23 °C (-9.5 °F), while that of July is 7.5 °C (45.5 °F).


On the north coast, at Point Barrow (or Nuvuk), it ranges from -25.5 °C (-13.5 °F) in February, to 5 °C (41 °C) in July, while further to the east, in Barter Island, it ranges from -28.5 °C (-19.5 °F) in February, to 5 °C (41 °F) in July.
Here are the average temperatures of Barrow.
Average temperatures - Barrow
Min (°C)-29-29-28-21-9-121-2-11-20-25
Max (°C)-22-22-21-13-35872-6-14-19
Min (°F)-20-20-18-6163036342812-4-13
Max (°F)-8-8-692741464536217-2

In this coastal area, precipitation, which occurs mostly in the form of snow, except in summer, is scarce, being slightly more than 300 millimetres (12 inches) per year in the west, and even less, just above 100 mm (4 in), on the north coast. Here is the average precipitation in Barrow.
Average precipitation - Barrow
Prec. (mm)4445482526161164117

In Barrow, the sun remains below the horizon for a couple of months, from November 18 to January 22, while it never rises from May 10 to August 2. In late spring and in summer, the sun is seen for a good number of hours, also due to the very long days; however, in addition to rainy days, sometimes fog can form.
Sunshine - Barrow
Sun (hours)036910101064210

On the north coast, the sea is frozen solid for much of the year, when the temperature is equal or below -2 °C (28 °F).
Sea temperature - Barrow
Sea (°C)-2-2-2-2-2-20220-1-2
Sea (°F)282828282828323636323028


Along the west coast, as you move south, both temperature and precipitation increase. In Nome, the average temperature goes from -15 °C (5 °F), in January to 11 °C (52 °F) in July.
Average temperatures - Nome
Min (°C)-19-18-17-10-15873-5-12-17
Max (°C)-11-9-8-3613151391-5-8
Min (°F)-20114304146453723101
Max (°F)121618274355595548342318

Precipitation in Nome amounts to 430 mm (17 inches) per year, with a minimum in spring and a maximum in summer. Here is the average precipitation.
Average precipitation - Nome
Prec. (mm)252515202025558060403025430

Since it is located to the south of the Arctic Circle, Nome can see the sun even in winter, however the days are short and the sun is rarely seen. In summer, due to the shorter days and the more frequent rains, the amount of sunshine is a bit lower than on the north coast.
Sunshine - Nome
Sun (hours)257899865422

In the western part of the coast, the sea is usually frozen from December to April, while the temperature reaches 10 °C (50 °F) in August.
Sea temperature - Nome
Sea (°C)-1-1-1-104910841-1
Sea (°F)303030303239485046393430

The west coast

West Coast

More to the south, the winter climate becomes less cold, while summer remains very cool, so that the average in July and August remains around 10 °C (50 °F).
In Cape Newenham the temperatures go from -8.5 °C (16.5 °F) in January to 10 °C (50 °F) in July; precipitation amounts to 930 mm (36.5 inches) per year (with a minimum between February and April and a maximum between July and October), while snow (in total 2 metres or 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, that is, made of mosses and lichens, due to the summer which remains cold.

Cold Bay

In Cold Bay, the average goes from -2.5 °C (27.5 °F) in February, to 11 °C (51.5 °F) in August. Here are the average temperatures.
Average temperatures - Cold Bay
Cold BayJanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
Min (°C)-4-5-4-2258862-1-3
Max (°C)1023710131311742
Min (°F)252325283641464643363027
Max (°F)343236374550555552453936

Here precipitation amounts to 900 mm (36 inches) per annum. Here is the average precipitation.
Average precipitation - Cold Bay
Cold BayJanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDecYear
Prec. (mm)706055506055658011011010595910

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
Cold BayJanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
Sea (°C)43234791110865
Sea (°F)393736373945485250464341

The Aleutian Islands are even milder, but they still have a tundra vegetation, because of their cold maritime climate, which is similar to that of Iceland: cold but not too much in winter, with averages around -2/0 °C (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. In midsummer, the maximum temperatures are similar to those of Cold Bay, around 12/13 °C (55/56 °F).

The inland areas

Inland areas

The vast interior region of Alaska has a markedly continental climate, with frigid winters, and short but mild summers, 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 of North America) have occurred in this area, and in particular in the valleys of the Yukon and its tributaries, where cold air during winter easily stagnates, especially after cold air outbreaks from Siberia or the North Pole. Here the temperature reached as low as -62 °C (-80 °F) in Prospect Creek, -59 °C (-74 °F) in McGrath and Chandalar Lake, -57 °C (-71 °F) in Eagle and Tetlin, -56 °C (-69 °F) in Arctic Village and Bettles, and -52 °C (-62 °F) in Fairbanks.
Apart from the records, as mentioned above the climate of this region is strongly continental, so that in winter, lows around -30 °C (-22 °F) are normal, while in summer, from June to August, highs are around 20/22 °C (68/72 °F), with peaks of more than 30 °C (86 °F), while nights remain generally cool, and sometimes cold. It may seem incredible, but in the centre of Alaska, sometimes the temperature can reach 35 °C (95 °F)!
In this area, the temperature rises above freezing around late April, and drops again below this point in October.


Here are the average temperatures of Fairbanks.
Average temperatures - Fairbanks
Min (°C)-27-25-19-63101182-9-21-25
Max (°C)-17-12-4716222319130-12-15
Min (°F)-17-13-221375052463616-6-13
Max (°F)1102545617273665532105

Precipitation in this area is not abundant, in fact it ranges from 250 to 350 mm (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
Prec. (mm)15105101535555030201515275

In inland areas the sun shines more often than on the coast; from April to June in Fairbanks there are as high as 10/11 hours of sunshine per day.
Sunshine - Fairbanks
Sun (hours)247101011954321

The mountainous areas

Mountain ranges

In the mountain regions, we find glaciers and permanent snow. The Alaska Range reaches its peak in Mount McKinley, towering with its 6,194 metres (20,321 feet). In the mountain slopes exposed to moist winds coming from the sea, every year large amounts of snow accumulate. Due to the facts that snowfalls are heavy and summers are cool, the snowline is very low, and in some areas the glaciers, which by their weight tend to slide slowly downward, flow even into the sea.

The South Coast

South Coast

Let us now talk about the south coast of Alaska. Here, both 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 the water temperature doesn't drop below 6 °C (43 °F) even in winter, and the climate is cold maritime, with abundant rainfall (and snowfall in winter as well) on the coasts, but also with islands (see the Kodiak and Alexander Archipelagos), fjords and deep coves, within which the climate is somewhat more continental and less humid.


Anchorage is located in a sheltered bay, so that precipitation amounts to only 425 millimetres (17 inches) per year; snow falls from October to April, and the total amount of snow that falls in a year is still close to 2 metres (6.5 feet).
Here is the average precipitation.
Average precipitation - Anchorage
Prec. (mm)202015102025458575503030425

The January daily mean is -9 °C (16 °F), like in Moscow, Russia, while in July it's 16 °C (60.5 °F).
Average temperatures - Anchorage
Min (°C)-13-12-8-15912106-2-9-12
Max (°C)-5-32814182018145-2-4
Min (°F)91018304148545043281610
Max (°F)232736465764686457412825

In Anchorage, the sunshine amount is good in spring and summer.
Sunshine - Anchorage
Sun (hours)346899875432

At Anchorage, and along the southern coast of Alaska, the sea is cold in winter, but does not freeze.
Sea temperature - Anchorage
Sea (°C)6555710131312987
Sea (°F)434141414550555554484645

Further east, and south of the Wrangell Mountains, Valdez is famous for being a very snowy city: even 835 cm (27 feet) of snow per year fall, but in the winter of 1989-1990 ,a total of 14 metres (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 -6 °C (21 °F), while in July it's 13 °C (55.5 °F); precipitation amounts to 1,700 mm (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, lies the state capital of Alaska, Juneau, which has cold winters (the average in January is -2.5 °C or 27.5 °F), and cool summers (with highs in July of only 18 °C or 64 °F).
Average temperatures - Juneau
Min (°C)-5-4-215810973-2-4
Max (°C)02491417181713831
Min (°F)232528344146504845372825
Max (°F)323639485763646355463734

In Juneau, precipitation is abundant, being about 1,600 mm (62 inches) per year, with a peak from August to December; snowfalls are abundant and occur from late October to early April, totalling 2.2 metres (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
Prec. (mm)135105957585851151452202201501501585

In Juneau the sunshine amount is not great, as rains are frequent, however the relatively sunniest season is spring.
Sunshine - Juneau
Sun (hours)334676654221

At Juneau and along the southeast coast, the sea temperature is similar to that of Anchorage and the south coast.
Sea temperature - Juneau
Sea (°C)66678101213121087
Sea (°F)434343454650545554504645

While 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 southernmost part it can occur in the form of rain even in winter.


In Ketchikan, the southernmost city of Alaska, precipitation amounts to almost 4 metres (13 feet) per year, with a maximum in October, with even 565 mm (22 inches) of rain, and a minimum in June and July, when rainfall is still about 190 mm (7.5 in) per month. Throughout the year, "only" 1 metre (40 inches) of snow falls (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
Prec. (mm)3503252852852351851902753605654403953890

The average temperature in Ketchikan ranges from 1 °C (33.5 °F) in January, to 14.5 °C (58.5 °F) in August.
Average temperatures - Ketchikan
Min (°C)-2013581111851-1
Max (°C)4561013161818151064
Min (°F)283234374146525246413430
Max (°F)394143505561646459504339

In Ketchikan, the sun does not shine very often, as disturbances pass all year round.
Sunshine - Ketchikan
Sun (hours)233565553221

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 10 °C (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 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). It is worth while to recall that in Alaska the summer declines pretty quickly, so that usually in July it rains more than in June, and in August more than in July.
During the thaw (April in the south, May in inland areas, June in the northern coast), when snow turns into mud, it can be difficult to travel outside of towns and cities.
To visit Alaska in its winter appearance, February and March, usually quite sunny in central and northern regions, are preferable to December and January, because the days are longer.

What to pack in the suitcase

In winter: 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, gloves, fleece socks. For the south-east, less heavy clothes, sweater, down jacket, rain jacket or umbrella.
In summer: clothes for spring and autumn, T-shirt for hot days, jacket and sweater for the evening. For the north, the mountains and for excursions in the sea or in glaciers: rain jacket, down jacket and warm clothes.

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