If you are planning a trip to Utqiaġvik (Barrow), you are probably wondering if the weather is that extreme and perhaps what you need to wear to be comfortable. You aren’t alone, many of the questions about our community have to do with climate. And yes, up here at the top of the world, it is pretty extreme.
We are 320 miles north of the Arctic Circle and only about 1,300 miles from the North Pole so even at the height of summer; it stays pretty cool here. In fact, it is above freezing (32°F/0°C) only about 120 days of the year. The Arctic Ocean surrounds our town on three sides, and 200 miles of flat tundra stretches to the south of us. This topography means we have no wind barriers, providing for a dangerous combination of wind and cold in the winter. It stays below 0°F/−18°C for about 160 days per year, and freezing temperatures and snowfall can occur at any time during the year! To be safe, it is best to plan for winter conditions no matter when you plan to visit.
The first snow of our winter season usually happens around the first week of October. We consider the “First Snow” as the one that will stay on the ground until spring. Utqiaġvik is in a region that is considered dessert, so contrary to what most people believe, we don’t get much snow, usually only about 8-9 inches over the course of a winter. The darkness and the wind chill are much more dangerous up here, in fact, the seriously cold weather begins in January and will last until March.
Our polar night usually starts on November 18th or 19th when the sun sets for around 65 days. We won’t see the sun above the horizon again until January 22 or 23rd. Even the twilight decreases each day until winter solstice when it will last only three hours! By April though, we will have 14 hours of daylight, and it will start to get warmer, which for us means it climbs to 1.8°F/-16.8°C. By May 11 or 12th the sun will remain above the horizon all day, and this is when we earn the title the “Land of the Midnight Sun.” The sun won’t set for about 80 days, not until July 31st or August 1st. It is during this time that we will hit our high temperatures of above 35°F/2.1°C. Usually, it will stay about freezing until mid-late September, but just barely.
We are a land of extremes, polar opposites you might say, and we can’t wait to share it with you!