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.

Discovery Quest Ends in Disappointment, Death
January 18, 2010

Photographer Threaded the Eye of the Ice Needle For this shot of Scott's Terra Nova...The Captain Was Not As Fortunate

Robert Falcon Scott

On This Date in History:  Robert Falcon Scott was a British Explorer who was bound and determined to be the first person to reach the South Pole.  He set off in 1901 for Antarctica in the Discovery.   It was an appropriately named ship for Scott and his team wandered about for 3 years and made a survey of Victoria Land on the frozen continent’s Ross Sea and discovered the Edward VII peninsula.  Even though Victoria or Edward VII weren’t with them, I suppose it was deemed as good protocal to name discoveries for royalty.  This was just an exploratory mission to set up the ultimate move to the South Pole because they only made a few brief forays onto the continent itself before ending the 3 year journey.  He returned and wrote a book about the Discovery Expedition

Scott Made his Final Voyage in the Terra Nova...Not Much of an Ice-Breaker

Now, there were other explorers who had their hearts set on reaching the South Pole first.  One was Norwegian Roald Amundsen.  Competition between explorers of the final global frontiers was fierce and an undeclared war between the two men began in 1911.  Both knew of the other’s ambition and both suspected that history remembers the winners and not who comes in second.

Scott Prefered men to dogs

In this case, both 1st and second gained everlasting fame.  In honor of the pair, the weather station at the South Pole is named the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, where you can get current weather conditions.  But, only one man won the race.   Both men set sail for Anarctica but, Amundsen went to the Bay of Whales and set up a base camp 60 miles closer to the South Pole than Scott.  That was the first of his many good fortunes.  Both expeditions took off from their base camps in October 1912.  Amundsen had sleigh dogs while Scott took motor sledges and Siberian ponies as well as dog teams.  Apparently, Scott had the mindset of the time. 

Amundsen's Dogs Carried Him to The Bottom First

Remember, the Titanic was nearing her maiden voyage and many had thought that technology was the answer to all nature had to offer.  Scott largely disregarded the proven use of dog teams in harsh conditions. Scott wrote, “In my mind no journey ever made with dogs can approach the height of that fine conception which is realised when a party of men go forth to face hardships, dangers, and difficulties with their own unaided efforts, and by days and weeks of hard physical labour succeed insolving some problem of the great unknown.  Surely in this case the conquest is more nobly and splendidly won.”   It was definitely a race for the dogs because, not only was Amundsen’s route favored by geographic location, but also by the Antarctic weather.  It was summer time in Antarctica but the weather can still be brutal but Amundsen’s meteorological conditions were actually not too bad by Antarctic standards.   The Norwegians reached the South Pole on December 14, 1911 and favorable weather conditions allowed them to return to their base by January 1912.

The Last 5- From left to right: Dr E. A. Wilson, Lt. H. R, Bowers, Capt. Robert Falcon Scott, Petty Officer Taff Evans and Capt. L. E.G. Oates.

Scott was on the move all that time and had no idea of his rivals movement.  So, he pushed on thinking that he still had a shot to reaching the bottom of the world first.  Perhaps Scott depended too heavily on technology because the motorized sleds broke down.  Then the ponies had to be shot and he decided it was best to send the dog teams back, leaving he and four companions to press forward on foot.   Robert Falcon Scott must have been pretty upset on January 18, 1912 when, after over 100 days of great travail, he reached the South Pole and found that Amundsen had already been there.  What a bummer.  But, his coming in second place was the least of his worries.    See, the weather wasn’t too kind and these guys had to find their way back on foot.  Two of the men died along the way, but Scott and the other two continued on.  They made it to about 11 miles from the basecamp when the weather was so bad that they had to wait it out in their tent.    They waited forever. 

Royal Norwegian Navy Frigate Roald Amundsen (F310)

When the frozen bodies of the three men were found on November 12, 1912, a final entry was found in Scott’s diary dated March 29, 1912,  about a month before the Titanic sunk.  The men were found inside the tent Scott wedged between his two partners, Lt. Henry Bowers and Dr. Edward Wilson.  They were in their sleeping bags covered them as if they were asleep but, curiously, the flaps of Scotts bag was thrown open.  Maybe he got too hot.  Amundsen though also tempted fate and technology.  In 1928, the great Norwegian explorer was claimed by the top of the world when the plane in which he was flying on a rescue mission plunged into the icy Arctic Ocean.  Now, explorers using a submarine are searching for Amundsen’s plane in the icy depths of his grave.

Francene Was Loved and Will Be Missed

Weather Bottom Line:  I will be an usher at the service for Francene Cucinello, who passed away last week.  Sunday’s rain should be gone and that should be the only good thing for the day.  She was very well liked professionally and more importantly, personally.  She will be missed.  Francene was too young to be taken from this world but she touched the lives of many while she was here.  The rest of the week’s weather will feature rain as a front gets hung up. Probably not consistent rain, but shower activity from time to time with cool, but slightly warmer than average tempertures.