Alaska has multiple climate zones that include an arctic type (Köppen ET) in the extreme north, oceanic (Köppen climate classification Cfb) to subpolar oceanic (Köppen Cfc) in the southeast and southwest, subarctic continental (Köppen Dfb, Dfc) in the interior and southcentral regions. Patches of cold semi-arid type (Köppen BSk) regions lie in the extreme north-central and east. Alaska lies in the extreme northwest of the United States, with the Pacific Ocean to its south. A maritime border with Russia lies in the west. The Arctic Ocean is to the north, while the Yukon territory of Canada and the province of British Columbia border the east and southeast of Alaska. The proximity to the Arctic Circle and the vast ocean waters mainly impact the climate.
Alaska, the Last Frontier, is the largest state in America and has an average elevation of 590 meters above sea level. Denali is the highest peak in North America at 6191 meters, while several other peaks extend above 5000 meters. Marshlands, flatlands, high mountains, glaciers, millions of lakes, and numerous rivers constitute the diverse topography of the state. Permafrost is dominant in the northern third of the state's geography. The Brooks Range protects the interior from glacial arctic winds, while the Alaska-Aleutian Range extends to the east. The Northern Slopes region is mainly tundra with a small population. The interior is the largest region with a mostly uninhabited wilderness. The panhandle in the southeast is the closest region to the United States.
The extreme north of Alaska has long, frigid winters and short, cool summers, while the climate warms progressively towards the south. Summers are occasionally extreme in central and eastern pockets of Alaska, with temperatures crossing the 90°F (32.2°C) mark. The interior and southeastern panhandle sections register average high temperatures in the 65°F (18.3°C) to 70°F (21.1°C) range in the summer. Winter is severely cold, with the average low temperatures at -3°F (-19.4°C) at the peak of January. Spring is cold, while the fall is wet.
Snowfall averages a massive 270" (6858mm) annually in Alaska and lasts throughout the year except for the summer. The North Slope receives up to 30" (762mm) of snowfall, which tends to stay on the ground throughout the season. The average annual rainfall is a moderate 37" (939.8mm) in Alaska with a peak during the early fall season. Few regions in the southeast receive as much as 200" (5080mm) of rain, while the North Slope rarely receives more than 4" (101.6mm). Precipitation decreases to 60" (1524mm) in the Alaska Peninsula and Aleutian Islands regions and rapidly decreases to 10" (254mm) in the north. The average annual sunshine lasts for only 1560 hours in the year, with the sunniest period between June to August and the darkest period from November to February.
The highest temperature on record in Alaska is 100°F (37.8°C) at Fort Yukon on June 27, 1915, while Prospect Creek recorded the lowest temperature of -80°F (-62.2°C) on January 23, 1971.
The best time to visit Alaska
The best time to visit Alaska is from June to August during the moderate summer season. The interior areas are warm to occasionally hot during the summer but cold during the night. The north and northwest have cold nights and mild days at the best. The sunshine is highest during June with moderate precipitation and snowfall. The temperatures are mild in the south, but people who embark on boating trips face a cold environment. The summer usually brings more sunshine in Alaska, but the roads are slippery in many parts with the thawing of snow.
The worst time to visit Alaska
The worst time to visit Alaska is from December to February in the severely cold season. Winters have freezing nights in the state, and even the days remain below freezing in the extreme north and northwest. The skies are gray with the sunshine at its weakest of the year. Snowfall is massive and along with the piercing wind, is a detriment to outdoor activities. Severe cold is a real danger, and brief exposure to ice-cold water can prove deadly. February and March receive plenty of snow but receive adequate sunshine in the central and southern regions of the state.
Alaska is prone to volcanic activity, earthquakes, floods, and severe snowstorms. The Aleutian Islands chain lies in the Pacific Ring of Fire and is home to many active volcanoes. Mount Augustine last erupted in 2006 with frequent seismic disturbances, plumes of volcanic ash, steam, and gas. Volcanic ash went as far as the Kenai Peninsula, and the volcano region remains prone to seismic activity. The thawing of snow causes flooding during late spring and summer. Blizzards deposit large amounts of snow in the winter and stall everyday life. Wind speeds are frequently above 50 miles per hour along the coast and in the mountain ranges.
Weather in January
January is the peak of the winter in Alaska, with the average temperatures in the freezing range of -3°F (-19.4°C) to 10°F (-12.2°C). Prudhoe Bay in the far north is in the grip of ice, snow, and cold with temperatures in the bone-chilling -22°F (-30°C) to -10°F (-23.3°C) zone. Juneau, the capital in the southeast region, fares much better in the 26°F (-3.3°C) to 35°F (1.7°C) range, while Annette Island has some of the warmest days in the state at 42°F (5.6°C). The tundra is at its best in winter for transporting heavy equipment on the frozen rivers and lakes. The precipitation is short of 3" (76.2mm), but the 30" (762mm) of snowfall offers the best skiing, snowmobiling, and sledding conditions. The short days with dark skies and 3 hours of sunlight provide a unique experience of the fantastic Aurora or the Northern Lights. It is necessary to have clothing suitable for extreme colds such as long thermal underwear, a winter jacket, parka with insulated hood, boots, and mittens. Alaska is a winter wonderland, but January weather is not for the faint heart.
Weather in February
February is icy in Alaska, with the average temperatures in the -1°F (-18.3°C) to 15°F (-9.4°C) zone. The days are short, and the daily sunshine lasts for 4 to 5 hours in the majority of the state. Snowstorms often stall everyday life with vast deposits of snow and raging winds that make it difficult for snowplows and trucks to operate. February receives on an average 45" (1143mm) of snow, but the regions of heavy snowfall have relatively mild temperatures. The southern parts of the state are warmer than the north, with cheaper accommodation rates in the winter. Expect mild temperatures in the panhandle as places like Juneau and Sitka register temperatures between 28°F (-2.2°C) to 41°F (5°C). Dog mushing is extremely popular, and winter is the time for sled dog races on the frozen rivers such as the Yukon and Chena. Ice fishing and ice skating attract plenty of interest. Extreme winter clothing is mandatory in Alaska in February.
Weather in March
March sees the transition from the winter to the spring season in Alaska with cold temperatures and a significant increase in daily sunshine hours. Temperatures average in the freezing range of 4°F (-15.6°C) to 21°F (-6.1°C) in the state. Anchorage in the southcentral region registers between 19°F (-7.2°C) to 35°F (1.7°C), while Nome in the northwest is between 2°F (-16.7°C) to 19°F (-7.2°C). The sea is frigid in the north, with temperatures below 28°F (-2.2°C). The mountainous area of Mount McKinley accumulates vast amounts of snow and maintains a permanent snowline. March registers an average of 32" (812.8mm) of snow but sees the precipitation drop to 2.2" (55.9mm). Glaciers form a significant source of fresh water in the state. Late March is the usual date of arrival of the spring season, which awakens flora and fauna of the land. Hibernating animals slowly rise from their winter slumber to feed upon the replenished stores of fresh food. Hunting, fishing, and wildlife watching are few of the popular attractions in Alaska that gain traction in March.
Weather in April
April is the driest month of the year in Alaska as the spring season brings increased sunshine to the state. The days are mild to warm, but the nights are often cold and below freezing. The snowfall is ample and averages 28" (711.2mm) in the state, with Yakutat in the southeast receiving 10" (254mm). Anchorage in the southcentral region registers temperatures in the 29°F (-1.7°C) to 46°F (7.8°C) but receives little rainfall and a moderate amount of snow. The average temperatures statewide are in the cold 16°F (-8.9°C) to mild 34°F (1.1°C) range as the snow starts to thaw in the southern part of the state. Sunglasses are useful while traveling over the snow during the daytime. Vast glaciers, roaring freshwater streams, beautiful lakes, and the call of the wild are irresistible. Early spring is the time when grizzlies are busy fishing for salmons after awakening from hibernation. Expect black ice, numerous snowplows, and mush on the slippery roads in April in Alaska.
Weather in May
May is a beautiful month at the peak of the spring season in Alaska. Wildflowers bloom over the landscape, and wild animals roam the land. Spring offers an Alaska experience that is complete with the watching of the whales, bears, moose, and eagles in their natural habitat. The southern ocean waters are above 41°F (5°C) and make an ideal ground for kayaking, boating, and cruise tours. The average temperatures across the state are in the mild 31°F (-0.6°C) to 48°F (8.9°C) zone, with moderate sunshine in the majority of the regions. The precipitation is at a low 2.1" (53.3mm), but the snowfall registers an ample 12" (304.8mm). Fairbanks registers between a warm 38°F (3.3°C) to 60°F (15.6°C), while Unalaska is mild between 36°F (2.2°C) to 47°F (8.3°C). Skiing and sledding are still in full swing in the mountainous areas of the interior. Heavy jackets are avoidable during the day, but cold nights demand layered clothing. May is the last month of the snow season in Alaska except for the extreme north region.
Weather in June
June welcomes the warm summer season to Alaska with moderate to hot days and a decline in precipitation. The average temperatures are in the 41°F (5°C) to 59°F (15°C) range, with plenty of variation between the north and south regions. Kodiak and Cold Bay in the southcentral region register temperatures between 41°F (5°C) to 55°F (12.8°C), while Fairbanks in the interior has some of the warmest days at 72°F (22.2°C). Wildlife photography is at its best in the summer when the skies are clear, and the precipitation is at the lowest of the year. Snowfall is absent in the south, and the mild ocean temperatures are suitable for sea excursions. The bright weather is ideal for canoeing, kayaking, and watching marine life in the water. June is a perfect time for hunting, fishing, biking, and hiking the nature trails in the state or visiting the state parks and wildlife reserves. T-shirts are ideal for hot days, while a light sweater or jacket is suitable for June evenings in Alaska.
Weather in July
July is the hottest month of the year in Alaska, with the average temperatures in the range of 46°F (7.8°C) to 62°F (16.7°C). The interior of the state sees temperatures above 90°F (32.2°C) at the peak of the summer, while the ocean keeps the coastal areas cooler. Utqiagvik in the far north is one of the coldest places in the state that registers between 34°F (1.1°C) to 46°F (7.8°C), while Tok in the interior is one of the warmest places between 46°F (7.8°C) to 74°F (23.3°C). The evening sunlight stretches past midnight in Nome, just south of the Arctic Circle. July is an excellent time to visit the Denali National Park with numerous wild animals, birds, trails, and campgrounds on offer. Thunderstorms are rare, but wind speeds reach significant levels in the mountains. Jackets are handy in the cool evenings in the upper mountain ranges. Expect crowds at the peak of the tourist season and book accommodations in advance. July is a great time to visit Alaska, with many sunny days.
Weather in August
August is warm in Alaska as the beautiful summer draws to a close. Temperatures are in the average range of 42°F (5.6°C) to 58°F (14.4°C) statewide, with variations by altitude and region. Seward in the southcentral region registers temperatures in the mild 50°F (10°C) to 62°F (16.7°C) range. In the southwest, temperatures are between 45°F (7.2°C) to 60°F (15.6°C), with plenty of opportunities for fishing and watching wild animals and birds. Late summer sees an increase in precipitation to the tune of 4.3" (109.2mm) in the state. The landscape is green, and although strong winds blow frequently, Alaska is the least tornado-prone region in the United States. Seawater temperatures are at the warmest of the year at 36°F (2.2°C) near Barrow in the north. Tourists take full advantage of the daily sunshine that lasts for 5 hours in many places. Sweaters and jackets provide much-needed warmth in the cold evenings. Expect the summer warmth to decrease by the end of August in Alaska rapidly.
Weather in September
September is the wettest month of the year in Alaska as the short autumn season finds its way in the beautiful state. As the sunlight decreases rapidly to last only 4 hours a day, the temperatures decrease steadily, with an uptick in rainfall. The average temperatures are in the mild to cold 41°F (5°C) to 48°F (8.9°C) zone, with snowfall to the tune of 4.4" (111.8mm) statewide. The humidity is at the highest of the year at 82%, out of which mornings are typically the most humid. The arrival of the snow sends wildlife scampering in search of food to prepare for the onset of the harsh winter. Dawn and dusk are the best times to spot animals in the wild. September in Alaska presses insulated jackets, hats, gloves, and layers of clothing into action. The leaves begin to change colors by mid-September to further enhance the beauty of the serene landscape. Expect the temperatures to drop rapidly with each passing day in September in Alaska.
Weather in October
October is the time of peak foliage in Alaska with spectacular colors on display. Hues of gold, crimson, orange, and many others make the landscape look straight out of fairyland. Juneau is warmer between 39°F (3.9°C) to 42°F (5.6°C) than the average temperatures in the state that are in the cold 19°F (-7.2°C) to 31°F (-0.6°C) range. Down south, the Kenai Peninsula and Kenai Fjords are home to thousands of marine animals that are still enjoying mild water temperatures. The ample snowfall of 33" (838.2mm) in late fall drives the remaining summer crowds away. The partly cloudy skies see regular precipitation in the form of snow and rain, while strong winds increase the intensity of the cold in the evenings. Days are short, and the cold nights mandate layers of clothing, preferably an insulated jacket, mittens, and boots while stepping outdoors. Expect temperatures to drop sharply after sunset. October offers cheap accommodations and travel due to fewer crowds and cold conditions.
Weather in November
November sees severely cold weather in Alaska with the onset of the long winter season. The average temperatures are below freezing in the 6°F (-14.4°C) to 18°F (-7.8°C), but nights are below 0°F (-17.8°C) in many places. Fairbanks is between -6°F (-21.1°C) to 11°F (-11.7°C) in interior Alaska, while Bettles in the extreme north registers between -8°F (-22.2°C) to 6°F (-14.4°C). None of the fair-weather crowd remains in the state as the temperatures drop drastically. The darkest days of the year are in November, with the daily sunshine hardly lasting more than 3 hours. Snowfall is substantial to the tune of 40" (1016mm), with the Valdez area as the highest recipient. Few outsiders remain in the state to bear the extreme cold with the help of equally well-suited winter equipment. Snowstorms can limit visibility to a few meters. Drive carefully through deer crossings as the large ones of the species such as moose, caribou, and elk can cause significant damage to vehicles. November vacations rarely sell in Alaska.
Weather in December
December extends the realm of the harsh winter in Alaska with gray skies, rain, and abundant snow. The average snowfall is the highest of the season at 46" (1168.4mm) and remains on the ground for many days. Valdez in the southcentral region receives a massive 72" (1828.8mm) of snow in a typical winter season. The precipitation is moderate at 3.3" (83.8mm), even though the number of wet days is at the greatest of the year. The average temperatures are in the severely cold range of 1°F (-17.2°C) to 13°F (-10.6°C) and dip much further in the extreme north. Barrow registers between -2°F (-18.9°C) to -14°F (-25.6°C) in the far north, while Fairbanks in the central region is between 5°F (-15°C) to -13°F (-25°C). The southwest region receives the highest amount of sunshine in December, but Alaska hardly gets 120 hours of sunshine in the month. Christmas is white, with reindeer, sleighs, and Santa for company. Winter backcountry camping tours are for the truly adventurous in the cold of December in Alaska.