Temps hit 38 below zero in Alaskan city, setting new April record

Jessica Storm
·6 min read

A historic cold blast settling into Alaska this week will send temperatures plummeting far below zero, which could topple century-old low-temperature records in one city and even a longstanding state record.

The severe cold comes at a time when Alaska normally starts to thaw out from brutal winter weather.

"April is typically the time of year when Alaska is steadily climbing out of the Arctic's icy grip, with average high temperatures rising 10-20 degrees Fahrenheit from the beginning of the month to the end in places such as Utqiaġvik (formerly Barrow), Fairbanks and Anchorage," AccuWeather Meteorologist Renee Duff said.

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High temperatures in Anchorage, Alaska, usually start April in the upper 30s, before reaching the lower 50s by the end of the month. Fairbanks rivals this spring warmup average by rising from the mid-30s in early April and ending up near the mid-50s by the last day of the month.

"But that has been far from the truth so far this month, with temperatures running close to 18 degrees below normal month-to-date in Fairbanks," Duff said.

Anchorage set a daily record low of 9 degrees on Thursday. The previous record low for April 8 of 10 F was set back in 1986.

The cold air is also keeping snow from melting, which led to a new record Thursday. A snow depth of 24 inches was measured Thursday, the latest on record the snow has been that deep around Anchorage. The previous record came from 2011-2012 at the end of Anchorage's snowiest winter on record when 134.6 inches of snow fell. This year only 69.7 inches has been measured, which is below normal for the city. A normal total for April 8 is 71.8 inches.

This image of temperatures was captured around 11:00 p.m. AKDT on Thursday, April 8, 2021, and shows that many areas across Alaska are experiencing extremely low temperatures. (AccuWeather)

It's been a topsy-turvy start to April in Fairbanks. The city began the month with a high of 11, and low temperatures that didn't reach above zero degrees. Around Easter, the city's temperatures nearly recovered, just a couple degrees below the average high, but this was short-lived as temperatures tanked again to fall below -20, despite average lows being around 15 degrees.

"The next three days will bring historic-level cold for this time of year to parts of mainland Alaska. The state record low for April of -50F (-45.6C) might be broken," Rick Thoman, a climate specialist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks said on Twitter on Wednesday.

"A cold snap this extreme in April hasn't been experienced in the Fairbanks area since 1911, when three consecutive record lows were set from April 9-11," Duff said. Record lows are likely to be challenged during the latest cold wave, including Friday night's record of minus 32 F.

Bettles, Alaska, recorded a temperature of -38 F at 6 a.m. local time Friday. This is a new all-time record low for the month of April, Thoman said. The previous record was -37 F set back on April 7, 1986. Thoman said climate observations at Bettles date back to May 1944. Bettles is located roughly 240 miles northwest of Fairbanks and is located near the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve.

This image of temperatures was captured around 1:00 a.m. AKDT on Saturday, April 10, 2021, and shows the ongoing extremely cold temperatures across Alaska. (AccuWeather)

"Also, -32 F is the all-time April low temperature on record in Fairbanks, which has a shot at being broken as well," the local National Weather Service (NWS) office said on Twitter.

The temperature dipped to -16 F Friday morning in Fairbanks.

While Fairbanks usually sits at a high of 40 in early April, temperatures in the city didn't rise above 3 degrees on Friday, a whopping 37 degrees below normal. This broke the record for lowest maximum temperature on April 9th and was the latest in the season a single-digit high had occurred in the city, according to Climatologist Brian Brettschneider. April 8 held the previous record, according to the NWS.

As of 1 a.m. local time Saturday, the city was sitting at -25 degrees, just 7 degrees shy of tying the all-time April low temperature.

Fairbanks is currently amid a record-setting stretch of days since it last surpassed the 40-degree mark. It has been 180 days since Fairbanks last was above 40 degrees. That record broke the previous mark of 176 days previously set from Oct. 3, 1965, to March 27, 1966. The city is expected to keep adding to the new record as temps remain below 40 into next week.

So why exactly are Alaska's temperatures plummeting in the middle of the spring? The answer can be found with the jet stream, an upper-level phenomenon that directs the atmosphere.

"A deep southward dip in the jet stream will allow extreme cold from the Arctic to invade mainland Alaska on Saturday, with temperatures expected to plunge 15-35 degrees Fahrenheit below normal," Duff said. Temperatures will be more typical of the heart of winter than nearly the midpoint of meteorological spring.

There were several wind chill advisories (light pink) and wind chill warnings (orange) out across central and northern Alaska on Thursday. (NWS/NOAA)

High winds won't help with the cold at all. In fact, several areas of Alaska are under wind chill advisories on Thursday. Utqiaġvik, Alaska, had AccuWeather RealFeel® Temperatures in the minus 30s Thursday night.

Howard Pass, Alaska, among other locations, experienced a wind chill of -74 degrees Thursday night as winds gust over 50 mph.

Residents of Alaska are being urged to take precautions when going outdoors.

"People spending any length of time outdoors will want to be sure to bundle up appropriately and leave no skin left exposed to lessen the risk of frostbite and hypothermia," Duff added.

By Sunday, temperatures may recover a bit as the core of the Arctic air is expected to slide eastward into the Yukon Territory of northwestern Canada.

"This unusually cold air mass will begin to turn southeastward into the Canadian Prairies and then into the northern U.S. Plains, likely sending temperatures 10 to 20 degrees below normal for the first half of next week," AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Brett Anderson said.

For Alaska, there will be a major flip in the weather pattern. An area of high pressure will build over the Gulf of Alaska, ushering in milder air on southwesterly winds to the state.

"By Tuesday and Wednesday, much of interior Alaska may see temperatures as much as 10 to 15 degrees Fahrenheit above normal, which may translate to a 30-50 degree rise in temperatures for many locations," Anderson said.

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