Wow, That’s Cold! -51ºF? No Problem for New U.S. Climate Reference Network Station in Alaska

The U.S. Climate Reference Network (USCRN) is a network of climate stations that provides high-quality, long-term climate observations of temperature and precipitation.  One of the most recent ones installed last year is in the Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge southeast of Tok, AK, and just below the Arctic Circle. It was not long after being installed that the site experienced its first real cold-weather test on Nov. 21, 2011, when a record breaking early season air mass dropped temperatures at the site down to -50ºF. The site, designed with a new fuel cell power supply technology, continued to operate flawlessly throughout the event. 

Temperatures warmed to more seasonable levels during December, and then retreated back to persistent cold through much of January 2012, reaching the station’s winter minimum temperature on January 21st at -51º F. Temperatures warmed slowly until February 2nd, when a dramatic warming of 30ºF took place in a 15-minute period, accurately reflecting the local changing weather conditions at the time.  (see graph below). 

Given the remote location of the site, it is equipped with a combination power supply using some very new technology, including a methanol fuel cell and solar panel specifically designed to operate well in the low light of the long arctic winter.  Consistent power is truly vital to the proper operation of a USCRN station, and this contributed towards 100% receipt of data during this time.  This new power system will be used in future installations in isolated places in Alaska where normal alternative power sources such as solar and wind alone are  not adequate for such harsh winter conditions. In keeping with the program’s mission to provide high-quality, consistent observations, USCRN has adapted even in a harsh and rapidly changing environment to accurately observe climatic conditions. 

For more information on the USCRN Program, please visit the program web site at