'Cold' is a relative term

January 10, 2009 

Sure Anchorage is freezing. But you don't even want to know what this latest cold snap has been like in Interior Alaska.

"The coldest temperature was 68 below in Chicken yesterday," National Weather Service meteorologist Jim Brader said Friday. "And we've had a 63 below in Tok yesterday."

When it gets that kind of cold, mushers can't mush, small planes can't fly and gasoline turns to a slushy pudding in your gas tank.

"You can actually scoop it out," said Maurice Shultz, who owns Napa Auto Parts in Tok and has seen the usual winter rush of customers buying fan belts, fuel filters and magnetic heaters.

The freeze, which began in late December, has hit Fairbanks, the Copper River Basin and the Yukon Valley the hardest, according to the National Weather Service.

Meantime, Anchorage made it above zero Friday, and forecasters say there's an end in sight. Meteorologists expect temperatures to rise a few degrees this weekend, with a warm-up next week.

That's a little late for students in the village of Fort Yukon -- about 145 miles north of Fairbanks -- who stacked their school concession stand with nachos and soda pop in hopes of playing their first home basketball game of the season Friday.

Local temperatures approaching 60 below put a stop to that: The scheduled foe, Northway, couldn't get in.

"The issue is the traveling. When temperatures are lower than minus 50, they just don't fly," said Principal Ron Frieh.

Instead, the local men's team will challenge the high school boys, said school secretary Georgianna Engler. The girls will play the women, or maybe a group of middle school players.

"The 'little dribblers,' we call them," said Engler, who is catching a ride to work on the school bus because her truck is frozen.

In other words, life goes on.

The chill factor in Bethel, where temperatures dipped to 23 below, prompted local officials to close schools Wednesday so students wouldn't have to walk to school or be caught outside waiting for the bus. By the next day, they were back in class, said Superintendent Gary Baldwin.

In Fairbanks, where the low was 47 degrees below zero Thursday, pizza delivery man Jon Kincheloe keeps climbing into his Ford Focus to bring soldiers and college kids their pies.

The worst part is shivering on the porch while customers mill about before answering the doorbell. Plus he's had four flats in the past month.

"I've got frostbite on my hands from changing (tires)."

Car trouble is a common complaint at those temperatures. Which is why Dave Granzow of Northway -- 61 below Friday morning -- has outfitted his pickup with four extra heaters.

There's the block heater and the battery heater, he said, the oil pan heater and the transmission heater.

"There's some people that say anything colder than 40 below doesn't matter," he said.

They're the ones who don't go outside.

About 50 miles north of Northway is Tok, where local blogger Aliza Sherman Risdahl posted a photo this week of an electronic temperature gauge seen at the Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge office.

It read 80 below.

"I've been trying to drive a little bit into town, and as you drive, you can feel your steering wheel freeze up," Sherman Risdahl told National Public Radio this week.

That minus-80 doesn't count for the record books, however.

The coldest official reading in Tok this week was 63 below, said Brader, the National Weather Service meteorologist in Fairbanks.

Brader said many store-bought temperature gauges don't perform well at temperatures colder than minus-40.

Whatever the temperature, it's cold enough for local musher Dale Probert to let his dogs sleep in the garage. Probert said his daughter had to take her team to Anchorage to train.

"It's way too cold to run dogs. I think even the distance mushers are kind of held up right now," he said.

As for what happens next, Brader said temperatures could begin a turn upward this weekend.

"We haven't broken individual day records, because believe it or not, Fairbanks is a pretty cold place," he said.


Find Kyle Hopkins online at adn.com/contact/khopkins or call him at 257-4334.

Anchorage Daily News is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service