Friday, March 7, 2014

Out Colding Fairbanks

It is not often that anywhere in the Lower 48 has a colder winter than Fairbanks but this year was an exception. Looking at the primary stations across the U.S., 6 stations in northern Minnesota and North Dakota had a colder December through February than Fairbanks (see Fig. 1). This only includes so called 'primary' stations whose GCHN identifier begins with 'USW' (see Fig. 2).

The winter time period in Fairbanks saw an average temperature of -0.3°F. The normal winter value is -4.5°F. The 5 stations bested Fairbanks have winter normal temperatures in the +5°F +10°F range. While it may seems like stations in Minnesota and North Dakota would be colder than Fairbanks every couple of years, that is not the case. For the stations with the longest periods of record, Park Rapids, Pembia, Hibbing, and International Falls, you have to go back to the winter of 1976-1977 to find a season (with  complete records) that was colder than Fairbanks. That winter, Park Rapids was 0.8°F warmer than Fairbanks, Hibbing was 0.5°F colder, Pembia was likely 1.1°F colder (6 missing days), and International Falls was 3.8°F colder.

As many people know, International Falls calls themselves the "Icebox of the Nation. They have even trademarked the phrase (Reg. No. 3,375,139). Well, I can't help but note that most of Alaska is (considerably) colder than International Falls during an average year. Figure 3 shows those portions of Alaska that have a lower annual average temperature than International Falls.

 Fig. 1. Stations with a lower winter temperature than Fairbanks in 2013-2014.

Fig. 2. The 1043 stations evaluated in this study.

Fig. 3. Portions of Alaska that have a warmer/colder average annual temperature than International Falls, MN. This is based on NCDC 1981-2010 normal temperatures – not measured temperatures.

* Note: Figure 1 was updated on 3/8 after Hibbing reported data for the 8 days that had been missing.


  1. Canada has had their share of this winter 2013-14. Every time I've checked they've been cold.

    When the contiguous States receive some of that it's a major event in the news media (forget Canada, like Alaska they rarely exist to some). I'm sure it's been an unexpected burden for the unprepared and those with limited resources to avoid the difficulties. Now they'll be subject to flooding when it all melts.

    Meanwhile the Great Lakes continue to freeze:


  2. Very nice, Brian. Good job highlighting Alaska's supremacy in the matter of cold.

    It would be mildly interesting to see Alaska locations that have never been warmer than any lower 48 station in winter. But that could be quite a data processing job.

    1. Thanks Richard. This year the Alaska 'winner' was Nuiqsut and it was 'only' 7°F colder than International Falls. Only 5 of the primary stations in Alaska beat all of the Lower 48 this year so my guess is that there is a Lower 48 station that has beat out all of Alaska some year or another.

  3. What about wind-chill? The winds are much more severe in northern North Dakota.

    1. That is an interesting question. To answer it, downloaded the last 4 winter's of hourly observations and computed the wind chill for each hour of the day during the months of December, January, and February for Fairbanks, International Falls, and Bismark. Admittedly, this is a small number of stations over a small number of years but it is what was quickly accessible. Fairbanks had a lower wind chill than Bismark in all four years and a lower wind chill than International Falls for three of the four years. Therefore, it would be safe to assume that given the differential in average values, Fairbanks has, on average, a lower annual wind chill. That being said, places like Fargo might have a lower wind chill than the stations I selected.

      Winter --> 2010-2011, 2011-2012, 2012-2013, 2013-2014, Average
      Bismark --> 0.7, 15.7, 7.7, -1.8, 5.5
      Fairbanks --> -13.3, -9.9, -11.3, -4.1, -9.6
      Intl Falls --> -1.6, 10.2, 2.1, -12.6, -1.2