Many facets of Alaska, such as the weather, the change of seasons, and the Northern Lights, have been the stuff of myth and adventure.
The facts about these natural occurrences are even more interesting than the conjecture.
Alaska Weather: The Highs and Lows
Many weather-related myths surround Alaska’s climate. One of the most common is that summers in Alaska are cool. In fact, Alaska has four seasons like much of the rest of the United States and weather records at both ends of the thermometer. Alaska's summers are warm with highs that can reach into the 90s—Ft. Yukon holds the all-time record with a sizzling 100-degree temperature recorded in 1915.
Many believe that the far northern part of Alaska would be the coldest. Actually, the record for Alaska (and the entire U.S. for that matter) was set in 1971 at Prospect Creek in the northern interior. When compared to high readings near 90 degrees, Alaska’s temperature range is an astonishing 170 degrees.
Alaska Facts: Its weather, the Arctic Circle and other natural wonders
The State of Alaska: Its people, history and geography
Cities & Towns: Explore the towns and cities of Alaska
Alaska Cruises: Discover the Land of the Midnight Sun and the Inside Passage
Get Away From It All
The population of the entire state of Alaska is about half the population of San Diego, California! Slow down with an Alaska Cruise and find the peace and quiet you deserve with Princess Cruise Lines.
The Arctic Circle
Of all the natural wonders of Alaska, the Arctic Circle and the Aurora Borealis, or “Northern Lights,” are probably the best known and the most romanticized. One of the first questions that comes to mind is: What exactly is the Arctic Circle?
Science measures the Arctic Circle in three distinct ways. First, it denotes the region north of 66 degrees, 30 minutes north latitude. Second, it is the area north of the 10 °C summer isotherm. This is a line drawn across all areas whose average annual temperature is 0 degrees Celsius (32 degrees Fahrenheit) with a mean temperature in the warmest summer month of 10 °C (50 °F). The third measure marks the point beyond which no tree can grow.
But even this region known as the Top of the World has luxury accommodations. In Barrow, 330 miles inside the Arctic Circle, full service hotels with all the trappings overlook the vastness of the Arctic Ocean.
The Aurora Borealis
Native Alaskans believed that the souls of departed ancestors could be seen in the shimmering colored bands of the Northern Lights. Turn-of-the-century prospectors held the belief that the heavenly display was a reflection of the ultimate gold strike—the Mother Lode.
The Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, are glimmering ribbons of color that flash across the northern sky and leave all who see them with a sense of wonder and a feeling of being touched by some mystical force.
The lights themselves are created by electrically charged parcticles, drawn to Earth’s atmosphere by the magnetic field of the North Pole, and then colliding with air molecules that become luminous.
Although the magnetic field that creates the lights is active all year long, the long daylight hours of summer make the lights difficult to see.
The best times to view this spectacle are from August to April and the best Alaskan location for viewing is Barrow.
Other Wonders of Nature
It may well come as a surprise to learn that Alaska is home to a very rare ecosystem: the
temperate rainforest. The Alaskan rainforest contains some 22.5 million acres of ancientgrowth, wide varieties of wildlife, and 1000-year-old trees. It is the largest temperate rainforest in the world. Located in the Tongass and Chugach National Parks, this temperate rainforest captures both the wild nature of the forest primeval and a true sense of the value of our planet. Both forests have become featured locations of Alaskan tourism in recent years.
Unlike most other states, Alaska does not have plants like poison ivy or poison oak.
Another apparent anomaly in the Alaskan landscape is the existence of hot springs; again not something one would associate with our northernmost state. Located at Manley, Circle and Chena, these bubbling mineral waters attract visitors who want to enjoy the benefits of the hot springs while watching the Northern Lights or, perhaps, after a day of dog sledding, skiing, or other winter adventures.
Are you an American History buff?
Alaska Cruises takes you to the Last Frontier. Relive the historic Gold Rush days with a cruise through the Inside Passage with Princess Cruise Lines.