How Cold Is It? Try 70 Below Zero

By Stan Friedman

SHAKTOOLIK, AK (February 7, 2012) – Bitter weather that shoved temperatures as low as 70 degrees below zero in this tiny community on Norton Sound for more than a month finally broke over the weekend with a balmy high of 27 degrees.

At least one person was frostbitten within a matter of minutes, students wore coats in classrooms, and wind buffeted residents as they tried to get around.

Now that's a lot of snow!

Temperatures had remained below 40 degrees below zero since before Christmas. “We’ve had cold winters, but no one remembers the temps staying this low for this long of a period . . . but yesterday was brutal even to the hardiest Eskimo,” said Lynda Bekoalok on Friday.

One high school student suffered frostbite when he ran across the street from the high school to open the door where his mother works because it had frozen shut and the people inside could not get out, Bekoalok said. “Unfortunately frostbite on the face is common in people of all ages in the bush. Sometimes no matter how hard you work to cover your skin, the cold still gets in.”

Bekoalok is a teacher and said the school sent students home early because the heater could not warm the school adequately. “I really don’t think it got over 40 in my room.

“My room is on the north side of the building, and the wind just blows right through our windows and a door in my room that goes outside,” Bekoalok said. “We have plastic taped over the door and a quilt nailed over that. Our maintenance guy took some kids home on the snow machine (snowmobile). The parents were called to come get their kids. No child was allowed to walk – or should I say – blow home alone.”

Bekoalok said that a ground storm blew so hard that her husband, Gary, had to come to the school to help her walk home. “We had to hold on to each other to keep from blowing away. I was actually scared I would fall, and the wind would blow me to the other end of town. People who live on the north end of town had to walk backwards to get home. Even with goggles, face mask and lots of clothes you still get froze.”

There were humorous moments. On the day of the recent storm, the local store had a 20-percent-off sale. “As you can imagine with our high prices here in the villages, when a store has a sale, even the weather doesn’t stop people from cashing in on the deals.”

One of the determined shoppers was the Shaktoolik Covenant Church’s lay pastor Palmer Sagoonick. He had pulled a toboggan to the store to help his wife, Fena, bring home groceries.

The Bekoaloks also were shopping. “We had just come out of the store and could hear a strange noise in the storm,” Lynda said. “Out of the blowing snow Palmer appeared and his sled was flying high above him like a kite! My husband ran over and helped Palmer by grabbing the sled and bringing it down to earth so that Palmer could hold on it in a bear hug.”

Editor’s note: Photo courtesy of Gloria Andrew.

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