When Joe and I received our orders to Fort Wainwright, Alaska, we were immediately concerned about three things: distance from family, the December darkness, and the coldness of winter. Living in Georgia, winter was not a part of our life. The heaviest coat I owned was a fleece North Face jacket, and I wore sandals nine months out of the year. In 2015, school was canceled for three days due to the largest snowstorm since 1985-less than an inch of snow! Needless to say, our first winter in Fairbanks was a culture shock. We have learned a lot of new things, ten things to be exact!
1.We learned that life goes on! Blizzard? Drive slower. -40? No problem! School does not get canceled, students still walk to their bus stop, and there is still plenty of bread and milk at the grocery store.
2. How do we stay entertained on the cold, dark days? Throw boiling water into the air! Below -20, boiling water crystallizes into ice before it hits the ground. Be careful, though, since the water doesn’t instantly cool, stray droplets that hit your arm or you face can cause some gnarly burns. Alaska isn’t for the weak, y’all.
3. Exercising in subzero temperatures can cause DEATH! No exaggeration. Running in the cold will cause your lungs to burst? No one needs to tell me twice. I’m trading my outdoor running for a cup of hot chocolate!
4. Don’t take a deep breath when you first step outside. Your nose hairs will freeze, and you will feel a sharp pain in your lungs or be unable to catch your breath. The cold in Fairbanks is a way different sensation than “the cold” in Georgia.
5. The cold makes cars do weird things. For example, cars left unattended for a period longer than four hours must be plugged in to prevent freezing. In addition, the loud, grumbling, my car is about to explode sound is normal upon start up and normally goes away within five minutes.
6. If it feels like you are driving through a minefield of potholes, you probably are. If not, your tires are probably frozen. After about five minutes your tires will return to their normal spherical shape.
7. If you spend more than five minutes outside, you will look like the abdominal snowman. Frosted tips are the tundra fashion trend and no, the men’s hairstyle from the 90s isn’t making a comeback, your eyelashes are just frozen.
8. Pollution. If you want to firsthand experience mass amounts of pollution, visit Fairbanks in January. You’ll drive through clouds of car exhaust, fireplace smoke, ice fog, or a combination of all three.
9. You’ll find yourself saying “we’re having a heat wave” at -20 or “It’s warm enough to snow” when the thermometer hits zero. Yes, it gets so cold in Fairbanks THAT IT CAN NO LONGER SNOW. You bet your bottom dollar that the moment it’s “warm enough to snow”, it will. Hell hath no fury like Mother Nature in Fairbanks.
10.Touch a doorknob or gas pump without gloves, and you’ll get contact frostbite. Your hands will burn, peel, and maybe even become numb. I’ve purchased gloves in bulk at Old Navy to have purse gloves, pocket gloves, car gloves, etc.
Overall, I talk about the weather way more than I did in Georgia. It’s so neat to live in such an extreme climate and learn so many things that you never knew existed. Most of all, the Fairbanks community in the winter is wonderful. Winter is hard and everyone comes together to offer a helping hand to make life in the arctic tundra more enjoyable. While I’ve enjoyed the winter, It’s March 4th and still -30 degrees. Hurry up, Spring! P.S. You won’t hear anyone in Fairbanks say “Spring”, but rather “break-up season” when the snow melts and life becomes just one, large puddle. I can’t wait.