When I travel the country and tell people where I live, jaws drop, both out of awe and incredulity. “You live THERE?! Why in the world?? Boy, I’ve always wanted to go to Alaska!!” I explain that my husband’s job brought us here, first to Anchorage and almost two years ago to Tok. It’s beautiful here in the summers, cold as all get out in the winters.
My first winter here was the coldest, with our home thermometer capping off at -60 degrees Fahrenheit. Last summer was mild with many more minus 30s and 40s than past the minus 60 mark. Here are some of the things that happened to us, especially the first winter, that still cause friends’ eyes to pop open:
1. Temperatures can get below -60 degrees Fahrenheit for long stretches of time and most thermometers just don’t go any further.
2. We put cardboard or leather inside the grill on our vehicles to keep the cold air from freezing the radiator.
3. We get what’s called the “Tok Package” to insulate our vehicle engines – not just an engine block heater which is common in colder states but also an oil pan heater and battery blanket.
4. We get “square tires.” When we start our vehicles and start driving in the colder temperatures, the tires clunk and thunk like a flat tire. The tires freeze flat and take a while for the air inside them to warm up and smooth out.
5. Your breath freezes on the inside of your car windshield. After a certain point, even your car heater can’t keep up, and your breath turns into a crust on the inside of your windshield. Helpful to have a little credit card-sized inside the windshield ice scraper. Yes, they make them in Alaska.
6. School buses run until -45 degrees. We don’t have snow days here where kids get out of going to school. We have cold days when the temperatures become impossible for the school bus to operate properly and safely.
7. Our walls are 12 inches thick. Not everyone has the same kind of walls, although the log houses do have thick walls for insulation. But our place looks like a regular house but with walls a foot thick to keep out the cold and keep in the heat.
9. Moisture in your nostrils crystalizes. When you go outside in the colder temps, you can literally hear the moisture in your nostrils crackling and freezing up. Needless to say breathing in the air at that point is not good for your lungs.
10. We did see a thermometer at minus 71 degrees. My husband took a photo of it and it caused quite a ruckus across the Internet amongst weather geeks. Eventually, a representative from NOAA came by Tok to explain why it wasn’t an accurate reading. But we still have the picture! 😉
I haven’t experienced what happens when you throw a cup of hot water into the air outside. Everyone keeps telling me to try it, but I keep forgetting and going outside when it is cold enough to freeze midair isn’t my idea of fun!
Here’s a little video to give you a sense of winters at minus 60. Driving to General Store in Tok