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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Just How Cold is it In Alaska

Air Date: Week of

Living On Earth commentator Geo Beach speaks to host Laura Knoy from his home in frigid Homer, Alaska, where temperatures in the past week have dropped as low as 70 degrees below zero.


KNOY: Okay, so it's winter and you'd expect it to be cold in Alaska, right? But lately it's been really, really cold in the 49th state. We called Living on Earth commentator Geo Beach at his home in Homer, Alaska, to ask the obvious question: Geo, just how cold is it?

BEACH: Well, Laura, it's not as cold as some places in Alaska, but it's still cold. This weekend I was helping my friends move into a house, moving some furniture along. I had a nice cup of coffee sitting up there on the dash in my pickup truck. Got out and moved a table into their dining room. Came back out about 5 minutes later, and I had what was something like one of those slush drinks they make at Starbuck's now. It was just half frozen. It was slush coffee. It was cold; my fingers were cold just from carrying the furniture from the driveway up into the house.

KNOY: So what are the meteorologists saying about the cause of this Arctic blast that you're having?

BEACH: Well, we're in the coldest weather that we've had in more than a decade in Alaska. Ten years ago, in 1989, they dubbed it The Omega Block, that sort of terrifying science fiction name of Fahrenheit -451 or something. But we're not afraid of the cold. I mean, this is a state where we have permanent glaciers and ice fields. A little cold doesn't usually impress us. But now, if you're up in interior Alaska, it's nothing to spit at because your spit'll freeze before it hits the ground. It's 50 below, 60 below, 70 degrees below zero along the Dalton Highway from Fairbanks up to the North Slope in Prudhoe Bay. And you don't want to stop and turn off your diesel rig, because you may be hoofing it in some cold weather. It might not start back up for you.

KNOY: Besides a lack of ability to spit, how else does the cold affect daily life for humans there?

BEACH: Well, here in Homer, they tease us that we're in the Banana Belt of Alaska. It's south central Alaska. It's on the gulf and it's moderated by the Japanese current. And so, we're not as used to this as folks in the interior. But talking to my friends around the state, regardless of where you are, this is the cold stuff.

KNOY: We heard that Alaska Governor Tony Knowles actually postponed his inaugural celebration because of the cold.

BEACH: Yeah, he has inaugural celebrations in a few different cities, but he has one in Fairbanks, and he postponed that one. It's a formal occasion, even up here in Alaska. Folks get up in their gowns and their tuxedos, and Tony thought it wouldn't be a good idea if people had to dance waltzes in tuxedos and bunny boots.

KNOY: Well, what's the forecast for the future? The weather forecast, Geo? What are they saying?

BEACH: The meteorologists told us that we were going to have a very cold winter, and made these predictions starting in the summer time. But at Halloween and Thanksgiving, which are often absolutely white holidays up here, we were laughing at them because it was even warmer than normal. And like many Alaskans, we were thumbing our nose at the experts. But we're not thumbing our noses now, because our noses are frozen and so are our thumbs.

KNOY: (Laughs) Geo Beach is a writer and commentator for Living on Earth. He spoke to us from his home in Homer, Alaska. Geo, stay warm.

BEACH: Warm regards to you, too, Laura.



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