The Prospect of a Cold Guarantee is a Stone Cold Lock
January 23, 2011

Does This Look Like the Coldest Place in the United States?

Alaska Jan. Mean Min Temperatures 1971-2000

On This Date in History:  At this point in the winter season, data from the National Snow Analysis reveals that 49% of the nation is covered in snow.  Last month, that total was 44.8% but, in between, I’ve noted some days where the snow cover was as high as 70%.  We are in a weather pattern that has been persistent with a general ridge in the west and a trof down through the front range of the Rockies or through the midwest.  While there have been some big storms on the West Coast, most of the action seems to be riding up the northern part of the Rockies and then down deep, often way deep, into the South with the base of the mean trof generally in the heart of Dixie.  The mean long wave has been such that it tends to take storms just off the East Coast.  The East Coast has dodged a bullet for the most part because, while there have been a couple of big boppers nail New England, much of the Eastern Seaboard has missed out on several systems that, had they been about 100 miles further west, would have buried the I-95 corridor from North Carolina to Maine.  It’s pretty cold now but a super cold outbreak has for the most part been avoided.  While some records have no doubt been set, certainly no one has come close to all-time low temperatures recorded  in history.

Back in late 1970, there was a big high pressure ridge situated over Hawaii but, by early 1971, that big ridge shifted to the East.  A new mean ridge set up over the Bering Sea and created a strong blocking pattern over the Central Pacific. Northerly flow across the Bering Sea remained persistent but the southern part of the December trof moved east to set up a strong, broad cyclonic circulation across the Mississippi Valley to the Atlantic.  All of Alaska was much colder than average that January with Fairbanks, Alaska not getting above 22 F degrees below zero for 18 consecutive days, which is a record for such cold of such duration.  The record-setting cold month in Fairbanks resulted in an average temperature for that month in that city of 31.7 F degrees below zero. 

The Prospect Creek Camp was located down this road at the bottom of the valley

About 200 miles Northwest of Fairbanks and 25 miles Southeast of Bettles, AK, one will find tiny Prospect Creek, Alaska.  It was first settled as a mining camp in the gold rush days.  Most notably, a camp was built there for the builders of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline in 1974.  The near ghost town was transformed into the residence for some 27,000 workers and to serve pipeline station number 5.  There is not much at the location and the camp was little more than housing with some washrooms.  When the pipeline was completed in 1977, Prospect Creek was once again abandoned, though in 1992 it did serve as a base of operations for some people working on the rebuilding of a bridge along the Dalton Highway.  Not only did it serve to house workers but also their families and I’m sure that mom was happy to bring the kids along to live in the wilderness north of the Arctic circle at about 67 degrees North Latitude.  It’s so far north and so cold that it’s really more or less a desert as it only gets between 0 and 10 inches of precipitation per year.  June and July aren’t too bad with average highs of 71 and 73 respectively.  But, January and February average highs are 2 and 10 degree respectively and 6 months out of the year, the average high is below freezing.  In spite of the cold, you can find Black and Brown bears in the area as well as Bald Eagles.  But, you probably won’t find Sarah Palin wandering about as it’s about 530 miles North of the former governor’s home town of Wasilla.

Airstrip at Snag, Yukon Territory Where Lowest North America Temperature was Recorded

Aside from all of this, it’s tough to find much about Prospect Creek and most likely would not be found anywhere on the internet or in encyclopedia’s if it were not what happened there on January 23, 1971.   The big fat ridge that parked itself over the region in January 1971 and brought Fairbanks such frigid conditions affected the entire state.  I suspect that the center of the high pressure ridge must have moved directly over Prospect Creek because, on this date in 1971, the mercury at Prospect Creek, Alaska fell all the way to 79.8F degrees below zero, giving it the record for the coldest temperature ever recorded in the United  States.  For all of North America, the low that day is second only to Snag, Yukon Territory, Canada that hit minus 81F degrees on February 3, 1947.  But, Snag’s elevation is 2100 ft while Prospect Creek is somewhere in the neighborhood of 1000 feet above sea level. 

It's Cold at Amundsen Scott but the Aurora Can Make It Worth the Trouble

 Mt. Washington, NH has the distinction of having the lowest annual mean temperature of 26.5F and the lowest mean summer temperature (51.6F) in the lower 48.  In 1954, a big old 1070mb high settled in over Montana and on January 20, the temperature at Rogers Pass in Lewis and Clark County fell to -69.7F to set the coldest temperature ever recorded in the lower 48 states. Rogers Pass sits about 150 feet below the Continental Divide at around 6000 ft in elevation.  It’s interesting that just 11 days before, the lowest temperature on the Greenland Icecap was recorded at -86.6 degrees. That is nothing compared to the all-time planet low temperature of -128.6F on July 21, 1983 at the Amundsen-Scott Station,which is just a few hundred yards from the geographic South Pole in Antarctica.  With all of this, it’s no wonder that Prospect Creek has zero population today.  But, you can mail a letter there, if you like.  The zip code is 99726.  I suppose the postal carrier that gets that mail-route is being punished because “nor rain, nor snow, nor dead of night” does not include “nor 79 degrees below zero.”  By the way, in case you are interested, you can take a tour that includes Prospect Creek.  I might suggest June or July.

Weather Bottom Line:  Well…after reading all of that, you should feel down-right warm.  Maybe not.  We have a hint of a warm up in the week ahead but it’s not much of a hint and it won’t last long.  First, we have a little disturbance wandering across that is damping out, or weakening so we may have some snow showers today and tomorrow.  Then another system comes across the south and an accompanying disturbance coming out of the midwest will also get damped out so we may have some snow showers Tuesday and Wednesday too but I don’t think it will be all that terrific.  We warm up slightly to the mid 30′s by the end of the week and may even hit 40 on Saturday but that’s about it because on Sunday, we’re back down to highs in the 20′s.  Break out the tanning butter on Saturday.

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