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 has also maritime and wet areas, which are not as cold as you might think.

Index


North coast



Alaska, 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 very low, especially in winter, both because of the high latitude and because the sea remains frozen for many months. In addition, this area is influenced by the Siberian air masses, which can easily arrive in this area, 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).

Barrow

On the north coast, at Point Barrow (or Nuvuk), the average temperature 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.
Barrow - Average temperatures
MonthJanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
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 occurs mostly in the form of snow, except in summer, and it is scarce, in fact it is slightly higher than 300 millimeters (12 inches) per year in the western part, and even scarcer, just above 100 mm (4 in), on the north coast. Here is the average precipitation in Barrow.
Barrow - Average precipitation
MonthJanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDecYear
Prec.(mm)4445482526161164117
Prec.(in)0.20.20.20.20.20.3110.60.40.20.24.6
Days55455691213127689

In Barrow, the sun remains below the horizon for a couple of months, from November 18 to January 22, while it never sets from May 10 to August 2. In late spring and in summer, the sun is seen for a good number of hours, also because of the very long days. However, in this period, in addition to rainy days, sometimes fog can form.
Barrow - Sunshine
MonthJanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
Hours036910101064210

On the north coast, the sea is frozen solid for many months every year. Remember that the sea freezes at about -2 °C (28 °F).
Barrow - Sea temperature
MonthJanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
Temp (°C)-2-2-2-2-2-20220-1-2
Temp (°F)282828282828323636323028

Nome

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.
Nome - Average temperatures
MonthJanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
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.
Nome - Average precipitation
MonthJanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDecYear
Prec.(mm)252515202025558060403025430
Prec.(in)110.60.80.812.23.12.41.61.2116.9
Days11109998121615121212135

Since it is located to the south of the Arctic Circle, in Nome the sun rises even in winter; however, the days are short and the sun is rarely seen. In summer, the days are less long than in Barrow, but there are the "white nights", when the sunset lights remain even at midnight, approximately from May 18 to July 26. However, in summer, both because of the shorter days and the more frequent rains, the sun shines for a lower number of hours than on the north coast.
Nome - Sunshine
MonthJanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
Hours257899865422

In the western part of the coast, from December to April the sea is near the freezing point, so in colder periods it can freeze, while the water temperature reaches 10 °C (50 °F) in August.
Nome - Sea temperature
MonthJanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
Temp (°C)-1-1-1-104910841-1
Temp (°F)303030303239485046393430

West coast



Alaska, West Coast

More to the south, the winter climate is less cold, while summer is still very cool, in fact the average in July and August remains around 10 °C (50 °F).
In Cape Newenham, the temperature goes 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. Snow totals 2 meters (6.5 feet) per year, and usually falls from October to May.
The Alaska Peninsula lies further to the south and therefore has a milder winter, but the summer is still cold, so the vegetation is still tundra, that is, made of mosses and lichens.

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.
Cold Bay - Average temperatures
MonthJanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
Min (°C)-4-5-4-2258862-1-3
Max (°C)1023710131311742
Min (°F)252325283641464643363027
Max (°F)343236374550555552453936

Precipitation in Cold Bay amounts to 900 mm (36 inches) per annum. Here is the average precipitation.
Cold Bay - Average precipitation
MonthJanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDecYear
Prec.(mm)706055506055658011011010595910
Prec.(in)2.82.42.222.42.22.63.14.34.34.13.735.8
Days191718161716172021232221227

In the central and western part of the Alaska Peninsula, typically the sea does not freeze in winter, but sometimes it can do it, at least on the north coast and during the coldest winters. Here is the sea temperature in Cold Bay (which is located on the south coast).
Cold Bay - Sea temperature
MonthJanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
Temp (°C)43234791110865
Temp (°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. So the climate here is cold but not too much in winter, with averages around -2/0 °C (28/32 °F) in the winter months, and very cool in summer, when the maximum temperatures are similar to those of Cold Bay, around 12/13 °C (55/56 °F). Precipitation is frequent throughout the year, but especially in autumn. During winter, heavy snowfalls occur.

Inland areas



Alaska, Inland areas

The vast interior region of Alaska has a markedly continental climate, with frigid winters, and short but mild summers, during which there can be a few hot days. Here the dominant vegetation is taiga (coniferous forest).
The cold records of Alaska (which contend with some areas of Canada those of the entire North America) have occurred in this area, and in particular in the valleys of the Yukon River and its tributaries, where cold air during winter easily stagnates, especially after cold air outbreaks from Siberia or the North Pole. 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 usually around 20/22 °C (68/72 °F), but with peaks of more than 30 °C (86 °F). Nights remain generally cool, and sometimes they can be cold. It may seem incredible, but in central Alaska, sometimes the temperature can reach 35 °C (95 °F)!
In this area, the temperature rises above the freezing point around late April, and drops again below it in October.

Fairbanks

Here are the average temperatures of Fairbanks, the second largest city in Alaska, located in the center of the state.
Fairbanks - Average temperatures
MonthJanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
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, available in this period. Here is the average precipitation in Fairbanks.
Fairbanks - Average precipitation
MonthJanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDecYear
Prec.(mm)15105101535555030201515275
Prec.(in)0.60.40.20.40.61.42.221.20.80.60.610.8
Days975471113131011109109

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. However, in late spring and summer the days are very long because the city is located just south of the Polar Circle. Moreover, since the time zone is shifted two hours compared to the real meridian, on 21 June, the longest day of the year, the sun sets after midnight, at 12.47 in the morning, while it rises two hours later, at 2.57 a.m. The white nights occur roughly from April 25 to August 17.
Fairbanks - Sunshine
MonthJanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
Hours247101011954321

Mountainous areas



Alaska, 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 meters (20,321 feet). On the mountain slopes exposed to moist winds coming from the sea, every year large amounts of snow accumulate. Owing to both the facts that snowfalls are heavy and summers are cool, the snowline is very low, and in some areas, the glaciers, which tend to slide slowly downward because of their weight, flow even into the sea.

South Coast



Alaska, South Coast

Let us now talk about the south coast of Alaska. Here, both the climate and the natural environment are similar to those of the west coast of Norway. In fact, here too a warm current flows in the sea, so that the water temperature doesn't drop below 6 °C (43 °F) even in winter. Therefore, the climate is cold maritime, with abundant rainfall (and snowfall in winter as well) on the coasts. In addition, here too there are islands (see the Kodiak and Alexander Archipelagos), fjords and deep coves, within which the climate is somewhat more continental and less humid.

Anchorage

Anchorage is located in a sheltered bay, so that precipitation amounts to only 425 millimeters (17 inches) per year. Snow falls from October to April, and despite the low level of precipitation, the total amount of snow that falls in a year is close to 2 meters (6.5 feet). Here is the average precipitation.
Anchorage - Average precipitation
MonthJanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDecYear
Prec.(mm)202015102025458575503030425
Prec.(in)0.80.80.60.40.811.83.3321.21.216.7
Days87767811141512911115

The January daily mean temperature is -9 °C (16 °F), like in Moscow, Russia, while that of July is 16 °C (60.5 °F). Here are the average temperatures.
Anchorage - Average temperatures
MonthJanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
Min (°C)-13-12-8-15912106-2-9-12
Max (°C)-5-32814182018145-2-4
Min (°F)91018304148545043281610
Max (°F)232736465764686457412825

In Anchorage, the sun shines quite often in spring and summer. However, during this period the days are very long, and roughly from May 7 to August 5 there are white nights.
Anchorage - Sunshine
MonthJanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
Hours346899875432

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

Further east, and south of the Wrangell Mountains, Valdez is famous for being a very snowy city, in fact up to 835 cm (27 feet) of snow fall per year. In the winter of 1989-1990, a total of 14 meters (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.

Anchorage

Juneau

In south-eastern Alaska, west of the Canadian province of British Columbia, lies the state capital of Alaska, Juneau. Here winters are cold, the average in January being -2.5 °C (27.5 °F). Summers are cool, with highs in July of only 18 °C (64 °F). Here are the average temperatures.
Juneau - Average temperatures
MonthJanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
Min (°C)-5-4-215810973-2-4
Max (°C)02491417181713831
Min (°F)232528344146504845372825
Max (°F)323639485763646355463734

In Juneau, precipitation is abundant, in fact it is 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 meters (86 inches) per year. Here is the average precipitation.
Juneau - Average precipitation
MonthJanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDecYear
Prec.(mm)135105957585851151452202201501501585
Prec.(in)5.34.13.733.33.34.55.78.78.75.95.962.4
Days211719171616181922242121231

In Juneau, the amount of sunshine is not great, since the rains are frequent, however, the relatively sunniest season is spring. March and April are the sunniest months, while September, October and November are the cloudiest ones.
Juneau - Sunshine
MonthJanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
Hours334676654221

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

While down to a certain latitude, precipitation occurs in the form of snow for many months, so that snow accumulation can be remarkable, in the southernmost part it often occurs in the form of rain even in winter.

Ketchikan

In Ketchikan, the southernmost city of Alaska, precipitation amounts to almost 4 meters (13 feet) per year. The rainiest month is October, with up to 565 mm (22 inches) of rain, while there's a relative minimum in June and July, when rainfall is still about 190 mm (7.5 in) per month. In an average year, and usually from November to March, snow totals "only" 1 meter (40 inches), and it is certainly not much compared to the huge amount of precipitation that occurs in the cold half of the year. Here is the average precipitation.
Ketchikan - Average precipitation
MonthJanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDecYear
Prec.(mm)3503252852852351851902753605654403953890
Prec.(in)13.812.811.211.29.37.37.510.814.222.217.315.6153.1
Days201820191716151619242322229

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

As you can expect, given the large number of rainy days, in Ketchikan the sun does not shine very often.
Ketchikan - Sunshine
MonthJanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
Hours233565553221

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 the temperature is above freezing. It's very cool on the remaining western coasts and on 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. On the southern coast, where cities like Anchorage and Juneau are located, the air is mild, but if you take a boat trip (maybe to spot orcas and whales) or if you want to visit a glacier you must be equipped for the cold.
June is the best month in most of the country, except on the north coast, in fact it's just cooler than July and August, but the sun shines more often, and rainy days occur more rarely. However, on the north 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 on the northern coast), when snow turns into mud, it can be difficult to travel outside of towns and cities.
If you want to visit Alaska in its winter appearance, February and March are preferable to December and January because the days are longer, besides these months are usually quite sunny in the central and northern regions.

What to pack in the suitcase



In winter, it is necessary to bring extreme cold weather gear, especially for the interior region, such as synthetic thermal long underwear, a fleece or synchilla, a down filled parka with insulated hood, a wind jacket in Goretex, warm boots, hand and foot warmers, gloves, fleece socks. For the south-east, you can bring less heavy clothes, a sweater, a down jacket, a rain jacket or umbrella.
In summer, bring clothes for spring and autumn, a T-shirt for hot days, and a jacket and a sweater for the evening. When going to the north or the mountains, on a boat trip or on a glacier hike, you can bring warm clothes, a rain jacket and a down jacket.

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