The Bitter Winter Wind Chills of Howard Pass

Weather gauges that scientists installed in 2011 have recorded phenomenally cold wind chills at Howard Pass (called Akutuq in Inupiaq) in the far western Brooks Range. The pass, which sits at 1,647 feet, forms a tundra plateau between the sprawling Colville and Noatak watersheds. It lies within the Noatak National Preserve over 100 miles north of the villages of Ambler and Kobuk.

Early on February 7, 2022, the weather station reported an air temperature of 43 degrees below zero and a 52-mph sustained wind speed, for a ridiculously cold wind chill of 91 below. In February 2013, the wind chill was 99.8 below. Nearly every year, scientists record wind chills colder than minus 70 at the pass.

Wind speeds at Howard Pass can exceed 100 mph, especially when atmospheric pressure differences set up between Alaska’s North Slope and the state’s interior.

Wind chill is an expression of how much wind magnifies the effect of cold air. It’s calculated through a formula that combines air temperature and wind speed. But the National Weather Service saves you from the math by hosting an online wind chill calculator. 

Although wind does not make the actual air temperature colder, it does exacerbate the feeling of cold and draws more heat from the body, increasing the risk of frostbite and other cold-related injuries.


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