Alaska News

Winter solstice brings daylight increases back to Alaska

Alaskans tired of winter darkness can take heart Monday: This is as long as it gets.

Dec. 21 marks winter solstice, and with it the year's single shortest day measured by length of daylight. After the winter solstice, each calendar day brings gains rather than losses in daylight until 2016's summer solstice on June 20.

Joe Wegman, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service's Anchorage office, said Monday that the day will bring 5 hours, 27 minutes and 41 seconds of daylight to Anchorage, with local sunrise expected at 10:14 a.m.

"We lost 9 seconds of daylight from yesterday, and so tomorrow will begin the upward climb," Wegman said.

Daylight totals elsewhere in the state varied by latitude. Kotzebue will see 1 hour, 41 minutes; Fairbanks, 3 hours, 41 minutes, 31 seconds; Juneau, 6 hours, 22 minutes, 29 seconds; and Ketchikan: 7 hours, 5 minutes, 28 seconds.

Kotzebue, which is north of the Arctic Circle, technically gets daylight even if the sun doesn't actually rise: "There it won't be the full disc of the sun getting above the horizon, just part of it," Wegman said. And like other parts of the state the Arctic city benefits from atmospheric refraction, which "bends the daylight so it makes the sun look like it's up for longer than it is."

Alaska's days are subject to greater changes in daylight during the year, as its northern latitude intensifies the effects of Earth's rotation along its tilted polar axis on how fully the state faces the sun. Some people buy special lights to counteract Seasonal Affective Disorder, now believed to affect more than 10 million people nationwide.


"It's all based on the Earth's revolution around the sun," Wegman said. "Year to year it doesn't change at all -- because if it did, the Earth would be in serious trouble."

The actual solstice will occur globally at 7:49 p.m. Alaska time, according to Wegman.

"That's the minute we're at when we officially stop losing daylight," Wegman said.

Monday's solstice brings with it an early Christmas present for Alaskans, as daylight time rapidly increases in the coming weeks.

"Tomorrow we'll gain 2 seconds and then on the 23rd we gain 14, and on Christmas Eve we gain 27," Wegman said. "New Year's Day we'll gain over 2 minutes, and by Jan. 7 we gain 3 minutes."

In Barrow, the nation's northernmost city, residents will have to wait roughly a month longer to again see the sun -- which last set on Nov. 18 at 1:49 p.m.

"It looks like their first sunrise will be on Jan. 23 -- sunrise will be at 1:10 p.m. on the 23rd," Wegman said.

Chris Klint

Chris Klint is a former ADN reporter who covered breaking news.