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Posted at 12:56 PM ET, 01/31/2012

Coldest January on record for parts of Alaska


A huge, persistent pool of cold air (indicated by low pressure at high altitudes in the image above) sat over Alaska for much of January (whereas warm air flooded areas to the southeast, including the U.S.) (NOAA)
Mind-boggling, historic cold has gripped the Last Frontier in recent weeks. Nome, Galena, and Bettles - in Alaska’s west and west interior - are all likely to have their coldest Januarys on record the National Weather Service reported today. It will likely be the 5th coldest January on record in Fairbanks, with a hard-to-imagine average temperature of -26.7. Anchorage is likely to log its 4th coldest January.

Consider some of the following chilling facts:

* Using satellite data, the University of Wisconsin detected surface temperatures as cold as -73 below zero around the town of Arctic Village in northeast Alaska

* Low temperatures in the 60 to 65 below zero range have chilled the towns of Galena, Fort Yukon and Huslia since last Friday; the coldest recorded temperature was -65 at both Ft. Yukon and Galena

* Fairbanks hit -50 on January 28, and -51 on January 29, the first -50 degree readings there since 2006

* Fairbanks dropped to 40 below on 16 different days during January, the greatest number since 1971 (hat tip: Jim Cantore)

* The average low in Ft. Yukon, 145 miles northeast of Fairbanks, has been -35 (Source: Our Amazing Planet)

* The average temperature in Anchorage has been just 2.7 F in January compared to an average of 15. Only three other years have been colder (Source: MSNBC). More info from National Weather Service.

In addition to cold, snow socked Prince William Sound earlier in the month, paralyzing Valdez and Cordova. Anchorage has already received 92” of snow this winter, compared to an average of 74.5” for an entire season.

The cold, snowy pattern has arisen from a persistent storm track through the Gulf of Alaska, bringing an onslaught of snow events to the coastal part of the state and record-shattering cold in the interior.

This pattern, known as the +EPO (characterized by low pressure over Alaska, the Gulf of Alaska, and the Bering Strait) has actually helped keep Arctic cold out of the lower 48. As of today, a paltry 19% of the Lower 48 had snow on the ground compared to 42% last year on January 31.

There are some signs this pattern will, at least temporarily, break down. As the NWS Office in Fairbanks wrote earlier today:

AS THE MONTH OF FEBRUARY BEGINS A LARGE SCALE PATTERN CHANGE WILL GET UNDERWAY...BUT IT WILL STILL BE SEVERAL DAYS BEFORE THE PATTERN CHANGE IS COMPLETE.

(Note: An apparent reading of -79 below zero reading at Jim River Maintenance camp - very close to the all-time U.S. record low temperature of -80 in Prospect Creek from 1971 - was deemed bogus by the National Weather Service. The observing station was not up to standard and the reading may have been caused by a failing battery it said. For more, see detailed analysis from the WeatherMatrix blog)

By  |  12:56 PM ET, 01/31/2012

Categories:  Latest, U.S. Weather

 
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