What life is really like in an Alaskan town that won't see the sun again until January 23

Screenshot / One Square MileFor two months, this town in Alaska doesn’t see any daylight, a phenomenon that’s called polar night.

  • Utqiaġvik, Alaska, the northernmost town in the US, experiences darkness from November to January every year.
  • The phenomenon is called a polar night.
  • The sun won’t rise in Utqiaġvik again until January 23.

The town of Utqiaġvik, Alaska – the northernmost town in the US – experiences a polar night every year, beginning in mid-November and ending in mid-January. That means that once the sun sets in November, residents won’t see daylight for two months.

Utqiaġvik, known as Barrow until 2016, is a remote town at the tip of Alaska, surrounded by wilderness tundra and not accessible by road. The average high temperature remains below zero from December through March.

Utqiaġvik has a population of about 4,000 and is home to the Iñupiat people, as well as many scientists who have come to the area for work.

Keep reading to find out more about what life is like in Utqiaġvik during the dark winter months.


Utqiaġvik is located at the top of Alaska, about 500 miles from Fairbanks.

Screenshot / One Square Mile

Source: “One Square Mile


People often call the town “the top of the world,” given its location at the northern tip of Alaska.

Google Maps

Source: YouTube


It’s location 320 miles north of the Arctic Circle, near the North Pole, causes it to experience a phenomenon called polar night.

Source: Arctic Today


This extended period of darkness, which occurs when the sun’s disk doesn’t rise above the horizon, happens once a year and lasts for more than two months.

Joe McNally/Getty

Source: KTUU


The sun sets in November and doesn’t rise again until January.

Screenshot / One Square Mile

Source: “One Square Mile


And in mid-May, the sun rises and does not set again for about 80 days.

Wikimedia Commons

Source: KTUU


In the winter, temperatures in Utqiaġvik often dip well below zero degrees Fahrenheit.

Google/Screenshot

And the town is no stranger to weather phenomena — look at this “fogbow,” for example.

Wikimedia Commons

The high winds and cold temperatures get dangerous in the winter — if you go outside without gloves on, fingers can get frostbitten within minutes.

Screenshot / One Square Mile

Source: “One Square Mile


Adults generally don’t ever let children go outside unsupervised.

Screenshot / One Square Mile

Source: “One Square Mile


Given the town’s remote location, it only had a population of around 4,400 in 2017.

Google Maps

Source: City Data


It is only accessible by aeroplane — there aren’t any roads in and out of town.

Screenshot / One Square Mile

Source: “One Square Mile


Utqiaġvik residents have been known to use dog sleds to get around town.

Screenshot / One Square Mile

Source: “One Square Mile


They were largely replaced by snowmobiles in the 1960s.

Screenshot / One Square Mile

Source: “One Square Mile


There are four grocery stores in town, and given the town’s isolated location, food is often marked up dramatically because it has to be flown in.

Screenshot / One Square Mile

Some food doesn’t make it through the extreme weather. This entire palette of soda had to be thrown away when it froze. It was delivered in -50 degree temperatures.

Screenshot / One Square Mile

Source: “One Square Mile


At a local supermarket, a single bottle of cranberry juice goes for almost $US10…

YouTube/Screenshot

Source: “One Day in Barrow, Alaska


… and cereal costs a whopping $US14 for two boxes.

YouTube/Screenshot

Source: “One Day in Barrow, Alaska


More than half of Barrow workers are government employees, and the median household income is about $US83,000, allowing families to afford the cost of living.

Screenshot / One Square Mile

Source: “One Square Mile“, US Census Bureau


For a family, spending $US500 a week on groceries “is almost nothing.”

Screenshot / One Square Mile

Source: “One Square Mile


Many rely on food like whale blubber to get them through.

Screenshot / One Square Mile

Source: “One Square Mile


Dinners for this family often consist of sweet rolls, fish, and rice.

Screenshot / One Square Mile

Source: “One Square Mile


They eat rice with almost every meal, including breakfast sometimes.

Screenshot / One Square Mile

Source: “One Square Mile


The town has several restaurants. One resident speculates that people in town don’t like to cook.

Screenshot / One Square Mile

Source: “One Square Mile


In addition to high prices at the supermarket, meal prices at local restaurants are also remarkably steep. A plate of nachos at this restaurant goes for a cool $US19.00

TripAdvisor

Source: TripAdvisor


Similarly, gas prices are exorbitantly high. Gas was $US6.50 per gallon in 2016.

Source: Tour of Barrow, Alaska


Church is also big in Utqiaġvik when the weather is good. Not many people show up when the temperature drops to -35 degrees, but attendance is high when it’s above -20 degrees.

Screenshot / One Square Mile

Source: “One Square Mile


Life in such a dark and isolated place can cause problems. Police say that suicide, depression, and substance abuse is common.

Screenshot / One Square Mile

Source: “One Square Mile


This cop says that “it can be extremely difficult to live here if you’re not from here.” He’s from Oregon and says he misses trees, mountains, and hills.

Screenshot / One Square Mile

Source: “One Square Mile


Because of the darkness in the winter, it can be hard to tell the days apart. Some people call the police station to ask what day or time it is.

Screenshot / One Square Mile

Source: “One Square Mile


Of course, the sky isn’t completely dark during the polar night. Civil twilight, which ranges from six to three hours in a day, allows enough light for you to see objects outside. And the northern lights and full moons can also help light up the dark sky.

Shutterstock/Gabriel Johnson

Source: Weather.com


Although some people still refer to the town as Barrow, the town’s official name was changed back to its historic name, Utqiaġvik, to reflect the town’s ancestral Iñupiaq language.

Source: NPR


And the town has a tight-knit community — this teacher says she’s related in some way to 80% to 90% of her students.

Screenshot / One Square Mile

Source: “One Square Mile


The town is home to Barrow High School, which had a student population of 224 kids for the 2017-2018 school year.

Alaska Deptartment of Education

Source: Alaska Department of Education


Like many American high schools, Barrow High School has a football team.

Getty Images

The team now practices on artificial turf that is more conducive to the extreme weather conditions.

Getty Images

Source: Alaska Air Blog


Utqiaġvik also draws people to work on its Air Force base…


… and to work in the environmental science field, since the town is home to the Barrow Arctic Research Center.

Source: Eu-Interact


Despite its challenges, locals say Utqiaġvik is a good place to raise a family. The teacher told a documentary crew: “I’m glad my kids have graduated from here and have been raised in this community. It’s part of their heritage.”

Screenshot / One Square Mile

Source: “One Square Mile


Tourism is also relatively popular in Utqiaġvik — people come to learn about the indigenous Iñupiat people, the town’s history of whaling, and life in the Alaskan Arctic.

TripAdvisor

Source: TripAdvisor


Visitors fly into Wiley Post-Will Rogers Memorial Airport, which offers connecting flights to a few local airports.

AirNav

Source: AirNav


The departure and arrivals board at the airport is far more simple than one you’d find in a big city.

AirNav

Source: AirNav


Once they have arrived in town, visitors can take tours of the tundra offered by a local hotel …

TripAdvisor

Source: TripAdvisor


… visit the Iñupiat Heritage Center …

TripAdvisor

Source: TripAdvisor


… and learn about the area’s whaling history. This iconic arch is made of whalebones and is a symbol of the town’s relationship with whaling and the sea.

TripAdvisor

Source: TripAdvisor, Atlas Obscura


One of the town’s landmarks is this sign that emphasises just how remote Utqiaġvik really is. You can see that Seattle is 1,960 miles away.

TripAdvisor

Source: TripAdvisor


In late January, after over two full months of relative darkness, the sun finally rises again.

YouTube/Screenshot

Source: YouTube


Though subtle, the year’s first sunrise marks the welcome return of sunlight for the majority of the next year.

YouTube/Screenshot

Source: YouTube


Residents and visitors can enjoy sun and blue skies once more.

TripAdvisor

Source: TripAdvisor

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