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, hoping her four furnaces were working.
 
She owns a grocery store and the building that houses the post office 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, where the furnace was operating 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 130 miles west of Fairbanks, which is Alaska's second-largest city. The cold also kept cars off the road, Erickson said. People instead were walking, 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 virtually 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 operated 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," Lori Kunz, 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.
 
In Tanana, Erickson said, 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 abundant 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 (149)
  • richardk-orv
    1/31/2017 - 04:58 p.m.

    Maybe they can't go any warmer because the plane is shut down from the cold and even the cars. Kids like to go out to play with snow even when it's minus 19. Also, it helps the pipes and the water and fuel lines.

  • nataliah-goa
    2/01/2017 - 10:12 a.m.

    People stay in Alaska when it is so cold they are good with the cold they do not what to move far a away from home.According to the artcal"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".So now you now why do people stay in Alaska when it is so cold.

  • elenaa-goa
    2/01/2017 - 10:24 a.m.

    People stay in Alaska when it is so cold because "tanana also has been blessed with abundant snow." according to the artical Children enjoy recess outside because of the snow also because "Living your whole life in Alaska for 53 years." you would get use-to the cold.

  • leslieb-goa
    2/01/2017 - 10:46 a.m.

    People in a Alaska stayed there because maybe they liked it there were they lived and also because they liked the snow and also they liked playing the snow and making sometimes even sometimes even snow mans. according to the text i found my answer in my head and also part paragraph 3 through 5 and it stated that why they wanted to stay and also because they loved living there and maybe there children loved there friends that they had when they live there and also because if they move they will be sad and they will not want to get out of there room because they loved living there. to extend my answer i am going to say that now you know that that's why maybe they wanted to say an d live there.

  • ahnad-orv
    2/01/2017 - 11:33 a.m.

    I don't know how people could survive in cold like that. We complain when it's 20 out we would never survive in -59. I find it crazy that it gets so cold.

  • aiyanaa-orv
    2/01/2017 - 01:19 p.m.

    I think that it to cold to even go outside. I wonder how it would feel to go outside. No one should be able to go in that weather. I don't like the cold at all so I couldn't deal with that at all. I didn't know it could get that cold in Alaska. I learned something new!

  • ryleyb-smi
    2/01/2017 - 01:48 p.m.

    Because it is there home place and after a while people in Alaska get use to the cold temperatures and maybe they don't want to move

  • charliet-orv
    2/01/2017 - 02:51 p.m.

    Isn't it obvious? That might be the only home they have. Where else could they go?

  • giavannac-orv
    2/01/2017 - 02:51 p.m.

    i wouldn't be able to stay in Alaska. i hate snow and cold weather and to be around that all the time wouldn't be for me.

  • loganm1-dav
    2/01/2017 - 08:48 p.m.

    In response to "How would you handle -59 degrees? I don't think I could do that because I'm from California and it usually doesn't go below 60. I'm used to the sun and not having cold windy days. I don't know how people in Alaska and Canada can deal with that. In conclusion, I think that living in -59 degree weather is crazy.

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