FAIRBANKS - One of the coldest Octobers on record in the Interior has the Yukon River grinding to a halt and residents settling in for winter. October 2008 went down as Fairbanks’ fourth-coldest October on record since 1904, according to meteorologist Rick Thoman with the National Weather Service in Fairbanks. The average temperature of 15.1 degrees was 8.4 degrees below normal.
The coldest October on record in Fairbanks was in 1996, which had an average temperature of 13.1 degrees. “That year we had three days in a row with lows in the mid 20s below,” Thoman recalled. “We didn't have anything quite like that this year. “It was just persistently below-normal temperatures rather than some great cold outbreak,” he said. “There were no records set.” The low temperature for the month at Fairbanks International Airport, the weather service's official measuring station in Fairbanks, was 13 below - recorded on Oct. 29 and well shy of October's record low: 28 below, set on Oct. 27, 1935.
There were 13 days when the low temperature was zero or colder, the most sub-zero days in October since 1965, which holds the record of 14 sub-zero days in October and ranks as the second-coldest October on record. “The number of days below zero was notable,” Thoman said. Only two days during the month saw temperatures above normal, the result of a chinook that blew into the Interior from the Gulf of Alaska on Oct. 10-11 and pushed temperatures into the high 40s before dropping again. Had it not been for the chinook, this October likely would have made the top three coldest Octobers on record, Thoman said. The warm blast of air also prevented Fairbanks from having one of its earliest snowpacks on record by melting about 4 inches of snow that had fallen the week before, Thoman said. As it was, the snowpack was established on Oct. 13. Total snowfall for the month was 12.2 inches, which is just slightly above normal.
The colder weather froze Interior lakes quicker and deeper than usual, but rivers are still in the process of freezing solid, said Larry Rundquist at the National River Forecast Center in Anchorage. The ice on the Yukon River has stopped moving in several Interior villages, including Circle, Galena, Tanana and Nulato, Rundquist reported. The ice on the Tanana River at Manley stopped running on Oct. 23, he said. The early part of winter has been much colder this year than normal in terms of “freezing degree days,” which Rundquist said are the driver for freeze-up and ice thickness. Freezing degree days are accumulated when the average daily temperature drops below 32 degrees. One freezing degree day is the equivalent of one degree below freezing. For example, if the average daily temperature is 22 degrees, it equals 10 freezing degree days. Fairbanks accumulated 600 freezing degree days in October this year, compared to an average of 260, Rundquist said.
In the Interior village of Eagle, on the Yukon River near the Canadian border, the coldest temperature in October was 24 below, said resident John Borg, who reports temperatures to the National Weather Service. The Yukon River ice hasn’t frozen completely yet, but it won’t be long, Borg said. “The ice isn't packed in shoulder to shoulder yet,” he said by phone on Monday. “It’s got a ways to go yet. I’d say a minimum of two weeks unless we get some severe cold weather.” Most of the 150 or so residents in the town at the end of the 160-mile Taylor Highway have settled in for the winter, he said. The road, which isn’t maintained in the winter, is pretty much impassable at this point, he said. “Most everybody planning to be here for the winter is on this side of the summit,” he said, referring to 3,650-foot American Summit.
Also in the lower 48 states, the USAToday reported the season’s first major blizzard pounded the Dakotas and parts of Wyoming and Nebraska Thursday with wind gusts approaching 80 mph. Schools were shut down, highways closed and power was knocked out across the region. Wind gusts of 78 mph were reported in Rapid City, S.D., and 38.5 inches of snow had fallen on nearby Deadwood, S.D., according to a blizzard warning issued by the National Weather Service. In Wyoming, Chester Hejde, 78, said the storm is close to the worst he’s seen in his lifetime. “A neighbor drove over here and he says he didn’t know where he was, and he’s lived here all his life,” said Hejde, who operates the Bunkhouse Bed and Breakfast about 20 miles northeast of Sundance, Wyo. “We’re just socked in here.”