When people think of Alaska, most picture a winter wonderland of mountains and pine trees. This isn’t far off in certain parts of the state for many months of the year, but Alaska is a vast state with a variety of climates. The Pacific Northwest is a lush land of coastal rainforests while up north is barren tundra. So when we talk about when it snows and how much it snows in Alaska, the answers will vary depending on where in the state you are.
Anchorage is the state’s largest city, and when people come to visit, they usually start here. Surrounded on three sides by the Chugach Range and the Pacific Ocean on the other, Anchorage actually has a more mild winter than you might expect. Believe it or not, it’s often warmer than Chicago or Minneapolis!
Typically by September our fall is in full swing, and the average high temperature is about 55°F/12°C, and it will drop down to an average of 42°F/5.5°C in the evenings. It is rare, but occasionally we will get some snow in September, but it usually melts quickly. The earliest recorded snow in Anchorage happened on September 20th. Most of the time we get our first main snowfall around the middle of October, and the kids expect to Trick or Treating in several inches of snow.
The snow will continue to fall and accumulate until late March or early April, and you can usually depend on it being gone by mid to late April. Over the course of our winters, we will see an average of 74.6 inches of snowfall, and we can have anywhere from 3 to 10 plus inches. In fact, out of 365 days of the year, we will have at least 3 inches of snow for 128.5 days, and for 149 days of the year, we have at least 1 inch of snow!. So for five months, Anchorage has on average at least 1 inch of snow on the ground! Most of the accumulation happens between January and early March.
Anchorage gets its fair share of snowstorms, but most don’t leave more than an inch of fresh snow. We will get three or four major snowstorms per winter that dump more than five inches of snow, reduce visibility and shut down highways and roads. Once in a while, we’ll even get major blizzards that dump 10 plus inches all at once! Statistically, it’s most common for our snowstorms to hit in November, December, or February.
Anchorage is a great place to start your Alaskan adventure and if you are planning a winter adventure, plan on driving in a good deal of snow. Even if you are used to driving in snow, a 4wheel drive vehicle is recommended, especially considering that our city is mountainous and the terrain can get slippery even when the roads are plowed.