Preparing for Alaska's Weather
Updated: May 1, 2020
Chris Day on the Wild Unpredictability of Weather
Wind—I’ve been listening to this storm for hours—another spun out typhoon, now considered a North Pacific Low. This wind has been strengthening over vast open water—strong and muscular, unchanged by terrain, wild. This wind has so much body and spirit; undulating, gusting, throwing itself against the end of the continent—ripe with moisture. As it goes on its way east, terrain will tame and change it—mold it. It will roll over mountain ranges, losing energy as it does; across the plains, it will flatten out—simply a strong flat wind. The eastern terrain will ruffle it up a bit before it heads back to open seas again as an offshore breeze. Wind and weather—amazing if you think about it—are truly alive.
Chris Day on What Will the Weather Be Like?
People so often ask, “what will the weather be like in June or July when I want to visit Alaska?” Only newcomers or fools would chance a guess. There is simply no way to know what tomorrow will be like in this place of continual change. Natives call the Lower Cook Inlet “the land where storms are born.” The longer I personally live here, the more I understand that there are only averages—no normals.
So come prepared—prepared for it all, prepared to be surprised. We often say in Alaska that we don’t change our plans, we change our clothes. This is true to a point, but if you venture off of the beaten path, be wise—and if you are in a boat or a plane and your captain or pilot says, “sorry, not today,” thank them. Be disappointed, but don’t be mad—you will be around to adventure another day.
Preparing to Dress for Alaska's Weather
Although we can’t tell you what your particular days in Alaska might be like, we hope to give you enough info about the time you’re visiting to get a good idea about how to dress appropriately for it.
Alaska is large and there can be quite a bit of variation in its weather. Southeast is different from the interior, and the interior is different from the far north. The further north you go, the more likely you are to be in an arctic climate, while southeast Alaska lies at the heart of the North American temperate rainforest. If you live in the interior of the state, you can expect long and brutal winters, but hot summers with temperatures in the 100s in places like Fairbanks. The further you get away from the ocean, the less mild both high and low temperatures will be. So, what is Alaska’s weather like?
Alaska’s Five Regions
Alaska’s five regions bear immersive diversity, from its flower-filled tundras to its lush rainforests in the southeast. Within the interior is Denali, the tallest mountain in North America, and some excellent hot springs. The southern coast features warmer weather arriving from the ocean, whereas the inside passage is a rainforest, being much wetter than Alaska’s desert regions. The far north contains the likes of Nome (i.e., the destination of the famous Iditarod route) and the arctic circle, so far north that during peak summer darkness vanishes for a time. The Aleutian Islands feature 69 distinct islands and 57 volcanoes that stretch for about 1,200 miles, roughly the distance between Atlanta and Minneapolis.
Alaska’s South Central Region (includes Homer)
Most of the people in Alaska live in this region because Anchorage is located here, which contains more than 40% of the state’s population. In addition, the south central region of Alaska includes the beautiful Kenai Peninsula, at the end of which is the lovely town of Homer. Although the northern side of the peninsula (i.e., Anchorage) is cooler than the southern side (i.e., Homer), the Kenai Peninsula and the south-central coast of Alaska stays warmer than you might expect for this far north because it sits on the ocean. You can see Homer indicated by the grey dot in the above picture, located within the yellow, south-central section.
Alaska’s Southwestern Region (includes Katmai)
The southwestern region is where the organized bear viewing occurs, in Katmai National Park and Preserve, a short flight from Homer across the Cook Inlet. The weather can be very different from the south-central region because of the mountain range that forms a barrier between the southwestern and southcentral regions. The natives call this area of the Lower Cook Inlet “the place where storms are born,” and when its sunny in Homer the weather can be very different in Katmai, and vice versa. What both of these regions share is (1) their proximity to the ocean, which ensures their weather will be very changeable, and (2) the Lower Cook Inlet, which is a constant source of erratic weather patterns.
Homer’s Average Summer
Summer in Homer is relatively mild, cool, and often cloudy. The mornings can be cool enough to warrant a jacket, and the afternoon sun can make it comfortable for a tee shirt. Layers are the name of the game, allowing you to adjust accordingly to the ever-changing weather. You can often expect the beginning and end of the day in Homer to be cooler, and if there is light rain and overcast weather, the whole day can end up being chilly. But when the sun comes out during the summer, you can certainly feel it. It’s not a humid heat, but you can be surprised by unexpected sunburns.
Conclusion: Be Prepared with Layers
Alaska’s weather is rich, varied, and unpredictable. It’s expansive size boasts five regions that can have significantly differentiated weather. Rather than big heavy coats, south-central and southwestern Alaska are best suited for several light layers that can easily be shed and carried along with you if you are, say, in Katmai National Park. Fleece is a popular go-to and combines nicely with a windbreaker. Windbreakers are light but provide a lot of protection on Alaska’s often-windy southern coast. When you come to Homer, be prepared for changing weather throughout the day and avoid single-layered gear that can’t follow the changes of the environment.