It’s supposed to get warm in Alaska later this week — well, Alaska warm. Many Alaskans have either experienced the sensation or been asked by a visitor: Why does 75 degrees feel hotter in Alaska than it does in the Lower 48?
“On a day when it’s 75, we’ll be complaining about how hot it is and people in the Lower 48 will be laughing at us,” says Brian Brettschneider, Climate Researcher with the University of Alaska-Fairbanks. “I thought it would be helpful to look at it from a scientific point of view and see, ‘is there really anything going on?’ and there definitely is.”
Brettschneider says there are several reasons for the sensation. For Alaskans, it’s partially perception. In Anchorage, 75 degrees is well-above average so that will just feel extra warm.
But what about people who visit from the Lower 48? They seem to think Alaska feels warmer as well.
Bretschneider says there’s one primary reason why: the sun’s angle.
“If you’re in Kansas City or Philadelphia and it’s 75 degrees, it’s probably in March maybe but the sun is higher in the sky,” Brettschneider explains. “Here it’s lower in the sky so the sun is actually hitting most of your torso, instead of being straight overhead. The fact that most of your body is feeling that direct radiant heat is quite a bit different than is usually the case in the Lower 48,” he continued.
“If you’re in Miami, Dallas or Los Angeles and the sun is almost overhead, if you just wear a wide-brimmed hat, you’re actually going to block most of that sun energy from hitting your skin,” he continues. “but, say at the Arctic Circle, the sun never gets more than about 45 degrees above the horizon, so it’s hitting your entire body when it’s sunny out.”
Brettschneider found other factors that influence the “warmer than it should be” sensation.
“In the Lower 48 at 75 degrees, there’s usually a strong breeze, maybe there’s been a cold front that’s passed by, so there are a lot of things that have to conspire to keep the temperature down to 75 degrees,” says Brettschneider. “Here when we’re at 75 degrees, it’s usually under high pressure, light off-shore winds, so the air is really still.”