10 Things People Don’t Believe About Tok Alaska Winters

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.

8. Wine does freeze. I learned this hard way when I brought all the wine gifts from friends from Anchorage on our drive to Tok. Needless to say I let the bottles thaw out and drank it anyway.

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

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Are you ready for winter?

The Tok Report – Car in Cold Weather

I’m playing around with Seesmic and seeing if my DSL connection will handle it. Here’s a little clip I just made about cold weather and vehicles. (I wish I could embed the video but WordPress.com doesn’t seem to allow it.)

Click for Video


What are YOUR cold weather vehicle stories?

These Guys Are My New Heros

I was wondering what temperatures might be like in Antarctica and what the affects of that kind of cold might be. These guys do a great job answering some of my burning questions.

And the temps, BTW, are more than 70 and 80 below zero. I’m guessing they are speaking Farenheit but either way, that’s freaking cold.

Even colder than Tok in winter.

But then again. It is Antarctica.



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The Fairbanks Package for Cars in the Alaska Cold

A typical block heater cord.
Image via Wikipedia

I was getting my brakes checked the other week at the Toyota dealer in Anchorage, and my husband suggested that I also get an engine block heater. It is pretty typical in Alaska to have an engine block heater (as it is in many cold-weather places). But as I spoke to the mechanic about the heater and told him we were moving to Tok, he offered an additional service.

“You may want to get our Fairbanks Package,” he suggested.

What is the Fairbanks package, you ask? Basically it is the engine block heater PLUS an oil pan heater PLUS a blanket wrapped around the battery. Because when you’re living in a place where 30, 40, 50, 60 and even 70 degrees Farenheit below zero isn’t unusual, you probably want a BLANKET around your engine.

I opted not to get the Fairbanks Package right now. The way I see it, I’m not going to be doing a lot of driving in the dead of winter when I first get to Tok. And I’m hoping my car will fit in our garage just in case. But getting the Fairbanks Package is not out of the question. We’ll see how my 4Runner fares.

Do you have the Fairbanks Package where you live?

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