Total Darkness Soon Returns to Barrow, Alaska

By Vickie Frantz, AccuWeather.com Staff Writer
November 13, 2010; 8:25 AM
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The sun dips below the horizon in Barrow, Alaska, Saturday Nov. 18, 2006, for the last time of the year. Residents in Barrow and other North Slope villages won't see the sun for the next two months. (AP Photo/Earl Finkler)

Barrow will soon enter a period of 7-10 weeks without the sun.

Barrow experiences between 51-67 days with no sun beginning in November and ending in January, according to fairbanks-alaska.com.

Barrow is located on the northern tip of the west coast of Alaska. This location gives Barrow some of the harshest weather there is in Alaska.

"Other areas of Alaska may have lower temperatures, but Barrow seems colder due to winds blowing off of the Arctic Ocean," said AccuWeather.com Senior Meteorologist, David Samuhel. "It is rare to see a wind speed below 10 mph."

"Barrow often experiences blizzard conditions due to the blowing snow," he added. "They get an average of 4.2 inches of [liquid] precipitation a year."

In Barrow it snows every month, but they do not usually get heavy snowfall with accumulation.

In spite of the intense cold and weeks of no sun, Barrow is home to 4,500 people. One of the world's largest Inupiat Eskimo settlements is located in Barrow. Fishing, hunting, and whaling are the way of life for most of the residents.

Residents spend time dog sledding, and viewing birds and polar bears. On clear days, it is a good time to view the aurora borealis (northern lights).

After the weeks of darkness pass, it is time once again for 11 weeks of sun with no sunset. The sun is up 24-hours a day beginning in early May, and does not set again until early August.

"We have grown up with the months of dark and light, and what is normal for you would be abnormal for us," said Papuk Glenn, coordinator of cultural affairs at the Inupiat Heritage Center in Barrow, Alaska.

"We plan our activities around the cultural calendar, and the calendar is based on the months of dark and light," Glenn said.

The Sea Ice Group at the Geophysical Institute is in Barrow measuring ice thickness. The group is a part of the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Once the darkness begins, the team will experience a shortened work day according to Chris Petrich. Petrich is a research associate with the team.

"We use floodlight as an additional light source," Petrich said. The floodlights help the team to see the snow dunes better, and also extends the workday.

"Even on the darkest day of the year there is still enough light to be able to read a book outside," said Petrich.

Photo Courtesy of University of Alaska Fairbanks. Barrow Alaska 11/12/10

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