- Alaska celebrated its 50th anniversary of statehood in 2009!
- Europeans first discovered Alaska in 1741 when explorer Vitus Bering sighted it on a voyage from Siberia.
- Russian whalers and fur traders on Kodiak Island established the first non-native settlement in Alaska in 1784.
- On October 18, 1867 Alaska officially became the property of the United States. Many Americans called United States Secretary of State William H. Seward’s $7,200,000 purchase from Russia "Seward's Folly."
- Alaska's Constitution was adopted in 1956 and became effective in 1959 making it the 49th state.
Claims to Fame
- Prudhoe Bay, is North America's largest oil field. 25% of the oil produced in the United States comes from Alaska.
- The Trans-Alaska Pipeline moves up to 88,000 barrels of oil per hour on its 800-mile journey to Valdez.
- The state boasts the lowest population density in the nation (current population is approximately 640,000 residents). There is .93 square miles for each resident of Alaska. By comparison, New York has .003 square miles per resident.
- When a scale map of Alaska is superimposed on a map of the 48 lower states, Alaska extends from coast to coast and comprises one-fifth the size of the continental U.S.
- With 570,373.6 square miles, Alaska is the United State's largest state - over twice the size of Texas.
- Nearly one-third of Alaska lies within the Arctic Circle.
- The Tongass National Forest in Southeast Alaska is the largest national forest in the United States.
- 17 of the 20 highest peaks in the United States are located in Alaska. North America's tallest is Mt. McKinley at 20,320 feet above sea level.
- Juneau is the only capital city in the United States accessible only by boat or plane.
- The heaviest annual snowfall of 974.5 inches was recorded at Thompson Pass during the winter of 1952-53.
- Alaska is home to the second greatest tide range in North America: 38.9 feet in Upper Cook Inlet.
- The world's largest concentration of bald eagles is found along the Chilkat River, just north of Haines. As many as 3,000 bald eagles can gather here in fall and winter months for late salmon runs.
- Lake Hood in Anchorage is the world’s largest and busiest seaplane base. It can accommodate more than 800 takeoffs and landings on a peak summer day.
The Sitka spruce is the official state tree.
The official state insect is actually the four-spot skimmer dragonfly.
The willow ptarmigan is the official state bird, although many Alaskans jokingly give that title to the mosquito.
The wild forget-me-not is the official state flower.
Weather in Alaska
Despite its reputation, weather in Alaska isn't always snowy and icy. Alaska has been known to reach extreme temperatures however, soaring to 100 degrees during the summer, and dipping to 80 below in the winter months. Rain showers keep rainforests lush in southeast Alaska, while annual snowfalls help replenish ancient glacial valleys.
Moisture from the Gulf of Alaska feeds the rainforests and glaciers that southeast Alaska is known for. The region receives more precipitation than anywhere else in the state. October is the wettest month of the year, with Juneau receiving more than 7 inches of rain. Despite the heavy rain, thunderstorms and lightning are rare in Southeast Alaska.
Southeast Alaska also experiences the state's highest annual average temperatures. Throughout most of Southeast, the average high temperature is above freezing every month of the year. Summer temperatures have been known to be quite comfortable. Cooler temperatures arrive in September, with winter setting in around November and staying until April. Winter temperatures are mild compared to the rest of Alaska, but can reach below freezing between December and February. The rain doesn’t stop in the winter, making ice a frequent problem on roads and sidewalks. Snowfall varies throughout the region, increasing rapidly with rise in elevation.
Weather in Southcentral Alaska is as varied as the terrain in this region. For the most part, the Pacific Ocean keeps winter temperatures warmer along the coast, while the mountains shield the cold air from the north.
Regardless, wintertime temperatures in Anchorage have reached 30 degrees (F) below zero. Winter usually lasts from mid-October to mid-April. While Anchorage typically receives approximately 70 inches of snow annually, over 500 inches of snow can fall annually on nearby Chugach Mountains. In March of 2001, Anchorage received a record 28.6 inches of snow in a 24-hour period.
Summer temperatures are relatively mild, with highs in the 60s in Anchorage. Snowcapped mountains are a reminder that the air at higher elevations is not as warm. Heavy winds have been known to strike the Anchorage area, and are most common from October to February.
The Aleutian Islands and Alaska Peninsula are two popular attractions of Southwest Alaska, because of the great fishing and wildlife viewing in the areas. It can be damp, foggy and cold in both winter and summer. The central and western Aleutians average less than 10 days with clear skies annually.
While the conditions may not be the most hospitable for people, they create a great splashing ground for salmon in places like Bristol Bay. Additionally, the wet weather helps keep the region comfortable for migrating waterfowl in the region's wildlife refuges and preserves. If heading out for a fishing trip or birding expedition, bring along rain gear and be prepared for wind.
Interior Alaska can be the warmest part of the state on summer days, with temperatures occasionally climbing into the 90s. By contrast, winter lows can dip to 60 degrees below zero. The temperature extremes are partly due to the amount of sunlight that hits the region – ranging from more than 22 hours of sunlight in the summer to less than 4 hours a day in the heart of the winter.
Precipitation, as well as cloud cover, are relatively light across valleys of Interior Alaska. Fairbanks only receives an average of 12 inches of precipitation (rain and snowmelt) per year. Snow typically covers the ground from October to mid-to-late April. In Interior Alaska, a unique kind of wintertime fog can occur when the temperature is below -30 degrees. This region tends to receive the brunt of the state's thunderstorms, which can bring lightning to the region between late May and early August.
Most of North Alaska lies above the Arctic Circle, where temperatures rarely go above 50 degrees during the year. It is common for temperatures to be 20 degrees below zero and lower during the winter. Temperatures become even more uncomfortable when winds ranging from 10 to 15 mph push the wind chill to 60 degrees below zero and lower.
Precipitation totals in North Alaska are even lower than those of Interior Alaska, measuring 4 to 6 inches annually. However, more precipitation falls than evaporates, making for numerous lakes along the coastal North Slope.