Barrow, Alaska

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—  City  —
The city of Barrow, Alaska in July 2008.
Barrow, Alaska is located in Alaska
Location of Barrow in the U.S. state of Alaska
Coordinates: 71°17′44″N 156°45′59″W / 71.29556°N 156.76639°W / 71.29556; -156.76639Coordinates: 71°17′44″N 156°45′59″W / 71.29556°N 156.76639°W / 71.29556; -156.76639
CountryUnited States
BoroughNorth Slope
 • MayorRobert Harcharek
 • North Slope Borough MayorCharlotte E. Brower
 • Total21.3 sq mi (55.2 km2)
 • Land18.4 sq mi (47.6 km2)
 • Water2.9 sq mi (7.6 km2)
Elevation10 ft (3 m)
Population (2010)
 • Total4,212
Time zoneAlaska (AKST) (UTC−9)
 • Summer (DST)AKDT (UTC−8)
ZIP code99723
Area code(s)907
FIPS code02-05200
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—  City  —
The city of Barrow, Alaska in July 2008.
Barrow, Alaska is located in Alaska
Location of Barrow in the U.S. state of Alaska
Coordinates: 71°17′44″N 156°45′59″W / 71.29556°N 156.76639°W / 71.29556; -156.76639Coordinates: 71°17′44″N 156°45′59″W / 71.29556°N 156.76639°W / 71.29556; -156.76639
CountryUnited States
BoroughNorth Slope
 • MayorRobert Harcharek
 • North Slope Borough MayorCharlotte E. Brower
 • Total21.3 sq mi (55.2 km2)
 • Land18.4 sq mi (47.6 km2)
 • Water2.9 sq mi (7.6 km2)
Elevation10 ft (3 m)
Population (2010)
 • Total4,212
Time zoneAlaska (AKST) (UTC−9)
 • Summer (DST)AKDT (UTC−8)
ZIP code99723
Area code(s)907
FIPS code02-05200
English (Welcome to Barrow) and Inupiat (Paġlagivsigiñ Utqiaġvigmun)

Barrow (pron.: /ˈbær/) (Inupiaq Utqiaġvik[pronunciation?] or Ukpiaġvik[pronunciation?]) is the largest city of the North Slope Borough in the U.S. state of Alaska.[1][2] It is the 9th northernmost city in the world and is the northernmost city in the United States of America, with nearby Point Barrow being the nation's northernmost point. Barrow's population was 4,212 at the 2010 census. The city was named after Sir John Barrow.



The city derived its name from Point Barrow, which was named by Frederick William Beechey in 1825 after Sir John Barrow of the British Admiralty. The location has been home to Native Inupiat Eskimo people for over 1,000 years and is called Ukpeagvik, or "place where snowy owls are hunted", in Inupiaq.[3][4]


Barrow is located at 71°17′44″N 156°45′59″W / 71.29556°N 156.76639°W / 71.29556; -156.76639. It is the only U.S. city on the continent of North America with an antipode on uninhabited dry land. The antipode is in Antarctica at 71°17′44″S 23°14′1″E / 71.29556°S 23.23361°E / -71.29556; 23.23361. Barrow is roughly 1,300 miles (2,100 km) south of the North Pole. Only 5.3% of the Earth's surface lies as far from the Equator as Barrow.[5]

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 21 sq mi (54 km2). 18 sq mi (47 km2) of it is land and 3 sq mi (8 km2) of it is water. The total area is 14% water. The predominant land type in Barrow is tundra, which sits on permafrost that is as much as 1,300 feet (400 m) in depth.[6]

Barrow is surrounded by the National Petroleum Reserve–Alaska.

The city of Barrow is divided, basically, into three sections, which can be classified as south, central, and north.


Icebow over Arctic ice in Barrow
Barrow sea ice, July 2006, 2007

Owing to its location 320 miles (515 km) north of the Arctic Circle, Barrow's climate is cold and dry, and is classified as a polar climate (Köppen ET). Winter weather can be extremely dangerous because of the combination of cold and wind, while summers are cool even at their warmest. Weather observations are available for Barrow dating back to the late 19th century.[8] Currently there is a National Weather Service (NWS) Office and a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Monitoring Lab in Barrow. The United States Department of Energy (DOE) also has a climate observation site in Barrow as part of its Atmospheric Radiation Measurement (ARM) Climate Research Facility.

Despite the extreme northern location, temperatures at Barrow are moderated by the surrounding topography. The Arctic Ocean is on three sides, and flat tundra stretches some 200 miles (300 km) to the south. Thus, there are no wind barriers, and there are no protected valleys where dense cold air can settle or form temperature inversions in the lower atmosphere in the way that commonly happens in the Interior between the Brooks Range and the Alaska Range.[9]

Nonetheless, Barrow experiences the lowest average temperatures in Alaska. Although it is rare for Barrow to record the lowest temperatures statewide during cold waves, extremely low wind chill and "white out" conditions from blowing snow are very common.

Temperatures remain below freezing from early October through late May. The high temperature is above freezing on an average of only 120 days per year, and there are temperatures at or below 0 °F (−18 °C) on an average of 160 days per year.[10] Freezing temperatures, and snowfall, can occur during any month of the year.[9]

In terms of precipitation, Barrow has a desert climate, and averages less than 5 inches (127 mm) "rainfall equivalent" per year, given that one inch of rain possesses approximately equal water content to 12 inches (30 cm) of snow. According to 1971–2000 normals, this includes 29 inches (74 cm) of snow, [11][12] compared to 101 inches (257 cm) for Kuujjuaq in Nunavik, Quebec[13] or 84 inches (213 cm) and 77 inches (196 cm) for much warmer Juneau and Kodiak respectively. Even Sable Island, at around 44 degrees latitude and under the influence of the Gulf Stream, receives 44 inches (112 cm), or 52 percent more snowfall than Barrow.

The first snow (defined as snow that will not melt until next spring) generally falls during the first week of October, when temperatures cease to rise above freezing during the day. October is usually the month with the heaviest snowfall, with measurable amounts occurring on nearly half the days and an average total accumulation of 8.8 inches (22 cm).[10]

The sun sets on November 18 or 19, and it remains below the horizon for about 65 days. This creates a polar night that lasts until the sun rises again around January 22 or January 23. During the first half of the polar night, there is a decreasing amount of twilight each day, and on the winter solstice (around December 21 or December 22), civil twilight in Barrow lasts for a mere 3 hours.[10][14]

In addition to its low temperatures and polar night, Barrow is one of the cloudiest places on Earth. Owing to the prevailing easterly winds off the Arctic Ocean, Barrow is completely overcast slightly more than 50% of the year. It is at least 70% overcast 62% of the time. Cloud types are mainly low stratus and fog; cumuli forms are rare. Peak cloudiness occurs in August and September when the ocean is ice-free. Dense fog occurs an average of 65 days per year, mostly in the summer months. Ice fog is very common during the winter months, especially when the temperature drops below −30 °F (−34 °C).[15]

Serious cold weather usually begins in January, and February is generally the coldest month, averaging −14.2 °F (−25.7 °C). By March 1, the sun is up for 9 hours, and temperatures begin to warm, though winds are usually higher. April brings less extreme temperatures, with an average of 1.8 °F (−16.8 °C), and on April 1 the sun is up for more than 14 hours. In May, the temperatures are much warmer, averaging 21.2 °F (−6.0 °C). Beginning on around May 11 or 12 the sun remains above the horizon the entire day, there is an increasing amount of twilight each day, and on the summer solstice (around June 21 or June 22), civil twilight in Barrow lasts for more than 3 hours and the phenomenon known as the midnight sun is observed. The sun does not set for about 80 days, until around July 31 or August 1. In June, the average temperature rises above freezing, to 35.7 °F (2.1 °C), and average daily temperatures remain above freezing until mid- or late September.

July is the warmest month of the year, with an average high of 47 °F (8 °C) and an average low temperature of 35 °F (2 °C). Beginning in late July, the Arctic Ocean is relatively ice-free, and remains so until late October.[10] The highest temperature recorded in Barrow was 79 °F (26 °C) on July 13, 1993, while the lowest is −56 °F (−49 °C) on February 3, 1924; the highest minimum is 53 °F (12 °C), while the lowest maximum is −47 °F (−44 °C).[10][14][16] Barrow records an average 24 days per year where the high reaches at least 50 °F (10 °C), and even in July and August, the low falls to or below the freezing mark on 24 days.[10]

Variation of wind speed during the year is limited, with the fall months being windiest. Extreme winds from 40 to 60 miles per hour (60 to 100 km/h) have been recorded for all months.[9] Winds average 12 mph (20 km/h) and are typically from the east.[11][12]

Climate data for Barrow, Alaska (Wiley Post–Will Rogers Memorial Airport, 1981–2010 normals)
Record high °F (°C)36
Average high °F (°C)−7.3
Average low °F (°C)−19.5
Record low °F (°C)−53
Precipitation inches (mm).13
Snowfall inches (cm)2.8
Avg. precipitation days (≥ 0.01 in)
Avg. snowy days (≥ 0.1 in)
Source: NOAA[10]


Homes built on pilings.
Historical populations

As of the census[19] of 2000, there were 4,683 people, 1,399 households, and 976 families residing in the city. The population density was 249.0 people per square mile (96.1/km2). There were 1,620 housing units at an average density of 88.1 per square mile (34.0/km2). The racial makeup of the city is 57.19% Native American, 21.83% White, 9.41% Asian, 1.00% Black or African American, 1.35% Pacific Islander, 0.70% from other races, and 8.51% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 3.34% of the population.

There were 1,399 households out of which 56.5% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 45.2% were married couples living together, 14.8% had a female householder with no husband present, and 28.0% were non-families. 23.0% of all households were made up of individuals and 1.8% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 3.35 and the average family size was 4.80.

Shore ice off Barrow, June 2005

In the city the age distribution of the population shows 27.7% under the age of 18, 13.3% from 18 to 24, 31.6% from 25 to 44, 19.4% from 45 to 64, and 3.4% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 29 years. For every 100 females there were 107.1 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 109.5 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $63,094.09, and the median income for a family was $68,223. Males had a median income of $51,959 versus $46,382 for females. The per capita income for the city was $22,902. About 7.7% of families and 8.6% of the population were below the poverty line, including 7.2% of those under the age of 18 and 13.12% of those 65 and older.

As of March 3, 2009, the town's website wrote of the population: "The largest city in the North Slope Borough, Barrow has 4,429 residents, of which approximately 61% are Iñupiat Eskimo."[20]


Barrow is the economic center of the North Slope Borough, the city's primary employer, and numerous businesses provide support services to oil field operations. State and federal agencies also provide employment. The midnight sun has attracted tourism, and arts and crafts provide some cash income. Many residents rely upon subsistence food sources: whale, seal, polar bear, walrus, waterfowl, caribou, and fish are harvested from the coast or nearby rivers and lakes.[21] Barrow is the headquarters of the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation.


Alaska Airlines 737-400 combi aircraft at Post/Rogers Memorial Airport, December 2007. Note that it is twilight. Even though the sun does not rise in December, it gets close enough to the horizon to illuminate.

The roads in Barrow are unpaved due to the permafrost, and no roads connect the city to the rest of Alaska.[22] Barrow is served by Alaska Airlines with passenger jet service at the Wiley Post–Will Rogers Memorial Airport from Anchorage and Fairbanks. New Service between Fairbanks and Anchorage began from Era Aviation on June 1, 2009. Freight arrives by air cargo year round and by ocean-going marine barges during the annual summer sealift.[23]

Barrow also serves as the regional transportation center for the North Slope Borough's Arctic Coastal villages. Multiple jet aircraft daily, with service from Deadhorse (Prudhoe Bay), Fairbanks and Anchorage, provide mail, cargo, and passenger services, which connect with smaller single and twin engine general aviation aircraft that provide regular service to other villages, from Kaktovik in the east to Point Hope in the west.[21] The town is also served by several radio taxi services, most utilizing small four-wheel drive vehicles.


Sod house remains in Barrow

In the Inupiaq language the location of Barrow is called Ukpeagvik, which means "the place where we hunt Snowy Owls".

Archaeological sites in the area indicate the Inupiat lived around Barrow as far back as AD 500. Some remains of 16 dwelling mounds from the Birnirk culture of about AD 800 are still in evidence today on the shore of the Arctic Ocean. Their position on a slight rise above the high-water mark places them in danger of being lost to erosion within a short time.

Dr. Bill Streever, who chairs the North Slope Science Initiative's Science Technical Advisory Panel, writes in his 2009 book Cold: Adventures in the World’s Frozen Places:

Barrow, like most communities in Alaska, looks temporary, like a pioneer settlement. It is not. Barrow is among the oldest permanent settlements in the United States. Hundreds of years before the European Arctic explorers showed up, starving and freezing and succumbing to hardship, Barrow was more or less where it is now, a natural hunting place at the base of a peninsula that pokes out into the Beaufort Sea. ... Yankee whalers sailed here, learning about the bowhead whale from Inupiat hunters ... Later, the military came, setting up a radar station, and in 1947 a science center was founded at Barrow.[24]

Royal Navy officers were in the area to explore and map the Arctic coastline of North America. The United States Army established a meteorological and magnetic research station at Barrow in 1881, and the Cape Smythe Whaling and Trading Station was established in 1893.

In 1888 a Presbyterian church was built at Barrow, and in 1901 a United States Post Office was opened.

In 1935 the famous humorist Will Rogers and pilot Wiley Post made an unplanned stop at Walakpa Bay 15 mi (24 km) south of Barrow while en route to Barrow. As they took off again their plane stalled and plunged into a river, killing them both. There are now two memorials at the location, now called the Rogers-Post Site. There is another memorial located in Barrow, where the airport has been renamed the Wiley Post–Will Rogers Memorial Airport.[25]

Alaska Airlines Terminal at Barrow airport

Barrow was incorporated as a 1st Class City in 1958.

Residents of the North Slope cast the lone vote in opposition to passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, which passed in December 1971. In 1972, the North Slope Borough was established. The borough, with millions of dollars in new revenues, created sanitation, water and electrical utilities, roads, fire departments, and health and educational services in Barrow and the villages of the North Slope.

In 1986, the North Slope Borough created the North Slope Higher Education Center, which later became Ilisagvik College, which is now an accredited two-year college dedicated to providing an education based on the Inupiat culture and the needs of the North Slope Borough.

The Tuzzy Consortium Library, in the Inupiat Heritage Center, serves the communities of the North Slope Borough and functions as the academic library for Ilisagvik College. The library was named after Evelyn Tuzroyluk Higbee.

Barrow, like many communities in Alaska, has enacted a "damp" law prohibiting the sale of alcoholic beverages, but allows for import, possession and consumption.[11]

In 1988, Barrow became the center of a worldwide media attention when three California Gray Whales became trapped in the ice offshore.[26] After a two week rescue effort (Operation Breakthrough), two of the whales were ultimately freed by a Soviet icebreaker.[27] Journalist Tom Rose details the rescue, and the media frenzy which accompanied it, in his 1989 book Freeing The Whales.[28] The movie Big Miracle is based on the rescue and aired in February 2012.[29][30]


KBRW (AM)/KBRW-FM[31] radio station broadcasts in Barrow on 680 kHz AM and 91.9 MHz FM. KBRW is also broadcast via FM repeaters in all of the North Slope Borough villages, from Kaktovik to Point Hope.

The Arctic Sounder[32] is a newspaper published weekly by Alaska Newspapers, Inc., covers news of interest to the North Slope Borough, which includes Barrow, and the Northwest Arctic Borough which includes Kotzebue, in northwestern Alaska.

Sports teams

Artificial turf field of Barrow Whalers football team

On August 19, 2006, the Barrow Whalers of Barrow High School[33] played the first official football game in the Arctic against Delta Junction High School.[34] Barrow recorded its first win two weeks later; the coaches and players celebrated the historic win by jumping into the Arctic Ocean, just 100 yd (91 m) from the makeshift dirt field.

On August 17, 2007, the Whalers football team played their first game of the season on their new artificial turf field. The historic game, attended by former Miami Dolphins player Larry Csonka, was the first live Internet broadcast of a sporting event in the United States from north of the Arctic Circle.[35]

Depictions in popular culture

Barrow is the setting for a series of horror comic books titled 30 Days of Night. The stories center on vampires who take advantage of month-long annual polar night in the town to openly kill and feed at will, massacring most of the townspeople. A commercially successful film, named after and based upon the comic, was released on October 19, 2007, followed by a straight-to-video sequel on July 23, 2010.

Karl Pilkington is sent to Barrow in the second season of An Idiot Abroad.

On The Ice, a film released in 2011 about teenagers dealing with a tragic accidental death, was entirely filmed in Barrow with locals acting in all roles.

Big Miracle, a 2012 film starring Drew Barrymore and based on the true story of whales trapped under ice near Point Barrow, features scenes in and characters from Barrow.

Special events

Sister cities

 ArgentinaUshuaia (southernmost city in the Americas)

See also


  1. ^ "Find a County". National Association of Counties. Retrieved 2011-06-07.
  2. ^ Stephen Fry (2008-11-16). Stephen Fry in America (Documentary). London, United Kingdom: British Broadcasting Corporation.
  3. ^ About Barrow - The Community
  4. ^ Streever, Bill (2009). Cold: Adventures in the World's Frozen Places. New York: Little, Brown and Company. p. 154. "It was called Ukpeagvik, literally 'a place for hunting snowy owls.'"
  5. ^ Figured mathematically by taking the sine of its latitude of 71.295556. Then subtract 1. After that, multiply by −1. Then multiply by 100 to get it in percent form.
  7. ^ [1]
  8. ^ Current weather data available from the NOAA
  9. ^ a b c "Summary about Barrow NWS Station".
  10. ^ a b c d e f g "NOAA Weather Data, 1981-2010".
  11. ^ a b c "State of Alaska Community Database Online".
  12. ^ a b "Coastal Pilot 9, 25th Edition, 2007" (PDF). "NOAA".
  13. ^ Canadian Climate Normals - Kuujjuaq Airport
  14. ^ a b "Daylight and darkness".
  15. ^ Maykut and Church, Gary A. and Phil E. (1973). Journal of Applied Meteorology. Department of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Washington. pp. 620–621.
  16. ^ "NOAA Sunset/Sunrise".
  17. ^ "Census of Population And Housing". U.S. Census Bureau. Archived from the original on 14 April 2011. Retrieved 2011-04-20.
  18. ^ "2010 Census". U.S. Census Bureau. Archived from the original on 7 July 2011. Retrieved 2011-07-07.
  19. ^ "American FactFinder". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2008-01-31.
  20. ^
  21. ^ a b "State of Alaska Community Database".
  22. ^
  23. ^ "City of Barrow Web Page".
  24. ^ Streever, Bill (2009). Cold: Adventures in the World's Frozen Places. New York: Little, Brown and Company. pp. 154–155.
  25. ^
  26. ^ Mauer, Richard (1988-10-18). "Unlikely Allies Rush to Free 3 Whales". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-06-12.
  27. ^ Mauer, Richard (1988-10-29). "Whales Break Free". Anchorage Daily News. Retrieved 7 January 2010.[dead link]
  28. ^ Rose, TOM. "Freeing The Whales - How the Media Created the World's Greatest Non-Event". Archived from the original on 21 January 2010. Retrieved 7 January 2010.
  29. ^ Dent, Mark (May 7, 2009). "May 7: Barrow whale rescue movie...". Anchorage Daily News. Retrieved 7 January 2010.
  30. ^ The listing for the film, Everybody Loves Whales on IMDb.
  31. ^ KBRW AM/FM
  32. ^ Arctic Sounder
  33. ^ Barrow High School
  34. ^ Playing in Barrow is all kinds of cool to Delta
  35. ^ Broadcast to make history

External links