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Is Alaska completely dark in the winter?

Alaska is known for its long, dark winters. Due to its high latitude location, parts of Alaska experience 24 hours of darkness during the winter solstice in December. However, the entire state does not go completely dark. The amount of daylight versus darkness depends on your location in Alaska. In this article, we’ll examine how much daylight different parts of Alaska get in the winter and if any areas are completely dark.

How Far North is Alaska?

Alaska’s location at high northern latitudes is the reason why some parts of the state have extended periods of darkness in the winter. The entire state of Alaska lies between latitudes 51°N and 71°N. This is entirely within the northern hemisphere. For comparison, the contiguous United States only reaches 49°N at its northernmost point in Minnesota.

Being positioned so far north means Alaska experiences dramatic seasonal changes in daylight hours. Around the winter solstice in late December, areas north of the Arctic Circle at 66°N have no daylight at all for part of the winter. Meanwhile, southern parts of Alaska still get 5-6 hours of daylight in late December.

Here are some key facts about Alaska’s northern location:

  • Alaska’s northernmost point is Point Barrow at 71°N latitude – this is entirely within the Arctic Circle.
  • The southernmost point of mainland Alaska is around 51°N latitude – this is similar to central Europe.
  • 30% of Alaska’s total land area lies north of the Arctic Circle.
  • The majority of Alaska’s population lives in areas south of the Arctic Circle that still get some daylight in winter.

Alaska’s far northern location explains why winter daylight varies so much across the state. Next, we’ll look at how many hours of daylight different Alaskan cities get around the December solstice.

Winter Daylight Hours in Alaskan Cities

To understand how much daylight Alaska gets in winter, we need to look at specific locations. Here are the approximate daylight hours in December for some of Alaska’s major cities:

City Latitude Hours of Daylight on December Solstice
Barrow 71°N 0 hours
Prudhoe Bay 70°N 0 hours
Fairbanks 64°N 3.5 hours
Anchorage 61°N 5.5 hours
Juneau 58°N 6.5 hours

As you can see, only the northernmost parts of Alaska near or above the Arctic Circle at 66°N have zero daylight hours in late December. This includes the cities of Barrow and Prudhoe Bay that have 24 hours of darkness.

Farther south, there is still appreciable daylight. Fairbanks gets 3 and a half hours of daylight despite being just below the Arctic Circle. More populated areas like Anchorage and Juneau even get 5-6.5 hours of daylight in late December.

So while the very top of Alaska has zero daylight for part of the winter, the entire state does not go completely dark. Much of mainland Alaska and all cities still have some amount of daylight in December. Next we’ll look at how daylight changes throughout the winter.

Daylight Patterns in Alaskan Cities

The amount of daylight in Alaska changes dramatically throughout the year.Around the winter solstice in late December, daylight hours are at a minimum. Daylight then steadily increases through the winter into spring and summer.

Here is a look at how the daylight hours change over the course of the year in some Alaskan cities:

City October December Solstice February April
Barrow 12 hours 0 hours 5 hours 16 hours
Fairbanks 10 hours 3.5 hours 7 hours 16 hours
Anchorage 10 hours 5.5 hours 8.5 hours 16 hours

In October, even northern cities like Barrow still have close to 12 hours of daylight. But by late December, Barrow is completely dark. Meanwhile, Anchorage only drops to about 5 and a half hours of daylight in December.

Daylight steadily increases through the winter. By February, Barrow is up to 5 daylight hours and Anchorage sees 8 and a half hours. In April, all cities are getting around 16 hours of daylight as summer approaches.

So while a few northern Alaska cities do experience a period of 24 hour darkness around the winter solstice, the daylight returns in the weeks after. Areas farther south like Fairbanks and Anchorage always maintain at least a few hours of winter daylight.

Why Parts of Alaska Have 24 Hours of Darkness

Alaska’s high latitude location is the reason why Barrow, Prudhoe Bay and other northern cities have extended periods of complete winter darkness. Here’s a brief explanation:

  • These cities sit north of the Arctic Circle at 66°N latitude.
  • Around the winter solstice (December 21-22), the sun does not rise above the horizon at Arctic Circle latitudes.
  • With no sunlight reaching these northernmost Alaskan cities, they experience 24 hours of darkness.
  • This period of zero daylight lasts for 30-60 days centered on the winter solstice.
  • As Earth’s orientation shifts, sunlight slowly returns to Arctic Circle latitudes by early February.

The Arctic Circle marks the southern boundary of the region with at least one 24 hour period with no sunlight during winter. The cities of Barrow and Prudhoe Bay sit a few degrees north of this boundary, giving them an extended period of darkness.

Meanwhile, cities south of the Arctic Circle like Fairbanks and Anchorage never have completely sunless days. However, they still have very few daylight hours around the December solstice before the daylight returns.

Myths About Alaska’s Winter Darkness

Despite the extended darkness in northern Alaska, there are some common myths about this phenomenon:

  • Myth: Alaska has 6 months of daylight and 6 months of darkness.
    Reality: No part of Alaska has a full 6 months of darkness or daylight. The extremes are around 2 months in far northern Alaska.
  • Myth: It’s completely dark throughout all of Alaska in winter.

    Reality: Only a small part of northern Alaska experiences zero daylight in December. Southern cities still receive 5+ hours.
  • Myth: Alaska is dark 24/7 in the winter.
    Reality: Aside from a brief period around the solstice, every part of Alaska gets some daylight each day in winter.

So while the extremes are exaggerated, it is true that northern Alaska cities like Barrow do experience a period of complete winter darkness not seen anywhere else in the United States. Next we’ll look at how Alaskans adapt to this darkness.

Adaptations to the Winter Darkness

The complete winter darkness above the Arctic Circle in Alaska requires some unique adaptations. Here are a few ways that Alaskans adjust to the lack of daylight:

  • Using extra artificial lighting indoors to maintain circadian rhythms.
  • Timing daily schedules and work around daylight hours further south.
  • Taking vitamin D supplements to make up for lack of sunlight.
  • Using reflective gear for visibility outdoors.
  • Coordinating food shipments during times with daylight.
  • Planning winter activities like dog sledding around available daylight.
  • Relying on moonlight and starlight for limited outdoor light.

These adaptations allow life to carry on as normally as possible. They also help mitigates potential problems from lack of natural light, like vitamin D deficiency or disrupted sleep cycles.

Some cope with winter darkness by leaving during the darkest period. For example, the town of Utqiagvik (formerly Barrow) sees its population drop by over 15% during December and January as some residents head south for the sunlight.

Meanwhile, farther south in cities like Anchorage and Juneau, fewer adaptations are needed. With at least 5 hours of daylight each day, normal routines can be maintained a bit more easily despite the short days.

Positive Aspects of Winter Darkness

While the winter darkness requires adjustments, some aspects are also seen in a positive light by Alaskans:

  • Excellent opportunities to view the Northern Lights.
  • Months of uninterrupted starry night skies.
  • A chance to experience a completely unique phenomenon.
  • Bonding with communities in the shared experience.
  • Coziness of bright, warm interiors contrasting with the outdoors.
  • Appreciating and celebrating the return of sunlight in spring.

The shared experience and stunning winter-only sights like the Aurora Borealis make the darkness special to some Alaskans. It becomes something to adapt to, appreciate, and even celebrate seasonally.


In conclusion, while a small part of northern Alaska experiences 24 hours of darkness in late December, the entire state does not go completely dark. Cities like Fairbanks and Anchorage still receive 3-6 hours of daylight around the winter solstice. Only north of the Arctic Circle at 66°N latitude does complete darkness occur for a period of 30-60 days.

Alaskans adapt by coordinating schedules and activities around available daylight hours. Extra lighting, reflective gear, and vitamin D intake help to mitigate the effects of little natural light. While challenging, the period of darkness is an extraordinary seasonal phenomenon that locals make the best of. Within a few weeks of the solstice, daylight returns allowing life to resume normally. So while the common perception of Alaska being shrouded in complete winter darkness is exaggerated, the complete lack of daylight in the far north is a unique aspect of Alaska winters.