#1: Barrow, Alaska
Aerial view of Barrow in Sept. 2008. Credit: United States Geological Survey/Jessica K. Robertson
We're invoking an exception. Barrow, Alaska's population may be under 5000, but, how can we possibly have a list of the nation's coldest cities without Barrow, Alaska as #1?
|Average annual temperature:||11.7 degrees|
|Subzero days/year:||160 days|
|All-time record low:||-56 degrees|
|Average last subzero low:||April 23|
|Average first subzero low:||November 4|
|Population (2010 census):||4212|
Want latitude? How about 71 degrees north latitude, almost 5 degrees north of the Arctic Circle, easily the northernmost city in the U.S.?
Unlike other U.S. cities, Barrow experiences "polar night", during which the sun does not rise above the horizon, from mid-late November through the first three weeks of January, a period of over 60 consecutive days. That said, there is a brief period of faint twilight in the middle of the day.
The average temperature over the entire year in Barrow is a mere 11 degrees. That's in its own league relative to other cities on this list, and even in the state of Alaska!
Average low temperatures in the heart of winter are in the 20s below zero. Average high temperatures remain below zero from the first week of December until early April. Again...those are typical temperatures in Barrow!
Another contributor to Barrow's cold is the prevalence of clouds. While the North Slope is technically a desert (only 38 inches of snow and around 4.5 inches of melted snow and rain annually), the dominant wind direction is easterly, off the Arctic Ocean.
As a result, over half the year, on average, is dominated by overcast skies of some variety.
Ice fog can occur in the winter months when temperatures plunge below -30 degrees. However, fog is more common in the summer, when the nearby Arctic Ocean is ice-free. Think of this somewhat analogous to Southern California's "June gloom". Namely, mornings with low clouds and fog.
By the way...it's not always cold here. There have been five days of 75+ degree warmth in Barrow, dating back to 1922. All but one of those have occurred in the month of July.