How would you handle -59 degrees? The Denali State Bank sign along Chena Pump Road in Fairbanks, Alaska, reflects the frigid temperatures that enveloped the interior of the state Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017. (Eric Engman/Fairbanks Daily News-Miner via AP/AP Photo/Dan Joling)
How would you handle -59 degrees?
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Cynthia Erickson woke up early. She hoped her four furnaces were working.
 
She owns a grocery store and the building that houses the post office. It is in the village of Tanana, Alaska. It ranked as the coldest place in the state on Jan. 18. The official temperature at the airport with a single gravel runway was minus 54 degrees. Nearby, along the Yukon River, it was 5 degrees colder.
 
"Fifty-nine below on Front Street in Tanana, Alaska," she said, laughing. "It's just miserable. I hate everybody who lives in a warm place."
 
A cold snap gripping interior Alaska is bothering even longtime residents such as Erickson. She didn't see a customer until 25 minutes after she opened her store. 
The furnace was working despite the cold.
 
"I'm good because I watch the temperatures and prepare in advance," she said. "Last week I got my stock in. I'm good. I'm not a last-minuter. Living your whole life in Alaska for 53 years, you've got to think ahead."
 
Planes were not flying in the village that is 130 miles west of Fairbanks, Alaska's second-largest city. The cold also kept cars off the road, Erickson said. People instead were walking. They were bundled up like the little brother in the movie "A Christmas Story."
 
She's hoping for a break in the weather, perhaps a balmy minus 20.
 
"I want to leave," she said. "My teeth are frozen to my lips."
 
A very cold, low pressure trough moved into Alaska from Siberia, said Christopher Cox. He is lead meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Fairbanks.
 
"The western Interior has been experiencing the 40s and 50s below for the last couple of days," he said. "Here in Fairbanks, we've had some clouds that protect us. The clouds parted yesterday afternoon and the temperatures have plummeted."
 
Fairbanks International Airport reached minus 50 on Jan. 18. It was the first time it had been that cold since Jan. 29, 2012, Cox said.
 
The city craves clouds when it gets so cold. From November through January, Cox said, sunlight has nearly no effect on temperatures. Clouds, however, provide an insulating layer. They reflect heat generated by the Earth's crust.
 
"Think of it as a blanket," Cox said. "If you have no clouds, there's nothing to stop that radiation from escaping to outer space."
 
Last winter, the low in Fairbanks never reached minus 30. But that's not typical. Fairbanks averages 11 to 12 days of temperatures that reach 40 below zero or colder, Cox said.
 
Schools ran as usual. Children enjoy recess outside until it hits minus 20. That is according to Fairbanks school district policy.
 
"If it's 19 below, they go out," said Lori Kunz. She is school secretary at Denali Elementary. Attendance dropped Jan. 18, when recess inside was the plan, Kunz said.
 
The extreme cold takes a toll on cars and water pipes. Tires flatten on the bottom. That leads to a bumpy ride until they snap back into shape. Changing a tire, and spinning a metal lug nut, can frostbite a bare finger. If a furnace fails, water pipes can freeze. Then they can burst when they're thawed.
 
Erickson said in Tanana propane turned into a gel in the cold. It makes cooking stoves impossible to use. People were shopping at her grocery store for items they could cook on woodstoves. But most people had water because of heating cable or tape on water lines, she said.
 
Tanana also has been blessed with a lot of snow.
 
"That really helps with the insulation," Erickson said. "Everybody banks their houses. It helps with pipes, water lines and fuel lines."
 
The mental wear and tear may be the worst part. Erickson said she had to look at summer pictures of boats, blueberries and kids swimming to help her make it through the day.

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why do people stay in Alaska when it is so cold?
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (17)
  • waiyan1-eri
    2/01/2017 - 02:07 a.m.

    They stay there because it's their home(in my predidtion).

  • kadenw531-
    2/03/2017 - 10:31 a.m.

    I could not handle that weather.

  • haylieb2-
    2/03/2017 - 10:39 a.m.

    if it were -59 degrease out side I would make a fort out of ice. it would be tall and wide so big on the inside you could be able to fit 5o people in maybe more but it would be awesome. I would build for 30 minutes and then go inside for 30 minutes and then repeat for the hole day it would be finished in a week.

  • jackg1005-
    2/03/2017 - 10:41 a.m.

    My mom watches a show about Alaska. People might stay in Alaska because there aren't a lot of stores to buy from.

  • baileyw-
    2/03/2017 - 10:41 a.m.

    I think it would be horrorble to live in that cold.I hope they stay warm.

  • wyattm163529-
    2/03/2017 - 10:43 a.m.

    I could not handle that type of weather so I would stay inside.

  • miked123457-
    2/03/2017 - 10:43 a.m.

    People there more and likely where 5 blankets at night to stay warm.

  • kaidenl-
    2/03/2017 - 10:45 a.m.

    I think if i had the right clothes i would actually love it there i love the cold and i'm sure that would be awesome.

  • adelinab2-
    2/03/2017 - 10:45 a.m.

    Maybe people want to stay in Alaska because if they move it could be a risk while moving!

  • creightonk-
    2/03/2017 - 10:48 a.m.

    I would love it if I was there so much snow it would make me happy because I like snow and I used to live in north dekota there has been some realy cold day up there -28.

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