Howard Pass wind chill reaches -97 degrees, breaks Alaska record

dkelly@adn.comFebruary 15, 2014 

Graphic: Recent temperatures and wind speeds relative to wind chill.

NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE

Fun weather fact for the record books: Alaska hit its all-time lowest recorded wind chill on Friday.

At 3:39 p.m., sensors at Howard Pass in the Brooks Range picked up a wind chill of minus 97 degrees Fahrenheit. That's calculated from a recorded temperature of minus 42 degrees and a sustained northern wind of 71 mph. A gust also was recorded at 78 mph.

"Mother Nature has a cold heart this Valentine's Day," the National Weather Service mused on its Facebook page.

The Howard Pass wind chill marks a one-degree drop from the previous record, marked in Prudhoe Bay/Arco on Jan. 28, 1989. One key difference between the two sites: Howard Pass is uninhabited, while people were actually living at Prudhoe Bay.

If people were living at Howard Pass, the new record would be considered even more significant, said Matthew Clay, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Anchorage.

Forecasters describe wind chill as the measurement of the described rate of heat loss from the body through a combination of wind and temperature. Even though the thermometer might read one thing, wind chill is used to characterize how the outside air actually feels to a person standing in it.

The formula for measuring wind chill has been tweaked over the years, and the National Weather Service rolled out a new index in 2001. In general, the new index is warmer than what would have been expected with the old index.

What does a nearly minus 100 degree wind chill feel like? Exposed skin would develop frostbite in less than five minutes, the weather service said.

Reach Devin Kelly at dkelly@adn.com.

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