Alaska Range
The early afternoon sun sets behind the Alaska Range with the 49th Missile Defense's Missile Defense Complex in the foreground. The 49th Missile Defense Battalion, located at Fort Greely, Alaska, defends the homeland from a limited ballistic missile attack.

FORT GREELY, Alaska (Dec. 27, 2013) -- Just a few weeks ago many states broke winter records as arctic weather dipped south. Yet, it was barely the first day of winter.

The first day of winter has officially arrived, however for Alaska, winter has been here for more than two months, albeit a mild one so far. For Delta Junction, Alaska, where Fort Greely is located, mild is a relative term.

Mild is only having a few days at a time colder than 30 below, rather than a few weeks. Even the frequent high speed winds have been less frequent than normal. These high speed winds can drop chilly 30 and 40 below temperatures to downright dangerous level of 70 and 80 below. Local residents were remarking at the 20-30 degree October, as an Indian summer.

This year the trick-o-treaters were able to wear normal costumes without the need to incorporate parkas. And for the first time in decades, there was no snow on the ground for Halloween, a record that was set in 1938.

Mild or harsh, Alaska winters require some preparation for vehicles, homes and cars. Most states will suggest winterizing both car and home, but here it is a requirement, and if not done early enough it could be too late. Often, once the freezing temperatures arrive, they will not go away until spring.

Winterizing a car requires changing the oil to a cold-temperature oil, a new battery if the current one is aging, and the installation of heaters for the block, battery, and oil pan to warm the car when it gets colder than 20 below. Without making these changes, a car may not start once it gets that cold, or worse some damage or excessive wear may occur if the car is started cold too many times.

When it gets colder than about 30 below, tires will hold the flat spot that always exists where the tire meets the road. This creates an unusual rattle until the tires warm up. The roads have had a combination of ice and snow since Halloween. So those tires must be snow tires, or a good all season tire if the vehicle is a four-wheel drive.

While the cold temperatures may seem a bit unusual, residents get accustomed to it and make the best of it.

"Layers, that's how you get by. I start wearing baggy clothes, which trap warm air. Then as it gets colder, I keep adding layers," commented Staff Sgt. Matthew Martin, 49th Missile Defense Battalion. "As for my car, I drain the wiper fluid and add deicer, and make sure my tank never gets below a quarter-tank, and I add a bottle of Heet to every other tank."

Heet is fuel additive that removes water to prevent fuel line freezing.

In order to be comfortable and not pay a small fortune to heat a home, the same attention will need to be given to it.

"I usually start by cleaning up around the house picking up junk and the kids toys," said 1st Lt. Anthony Montoya, 49th Missile Defense Battalion. "If you don't, everything will freeze to the ground or disappear in the snow. Then I check all my doors and window seals, and lastly I chop wood, a lot of wood."

Most homes have oil-fired boilers, but at four bucks a gallon, most people burn wood or wood pellets, and use the heating oil as a back-up.

"I go around my house and turn off the exterior spigots and place insulating caps on them," remarked Staff Sgt. Matthew Martin, 49th Missile Defense Battalion. " I then look for drafts and cracks in the seals around the windows and doors."

Most people probably will not notice these small drafts in single digit weather. But once the temperature gets down to 30 below that small crack in the door seal can be felt from several feet away with ice collecting around that area.

While the environment may not be mild, the demeanor of the people that call Interior Alaska home is. They take the extremes in stride. It just takes a little extra preparation and planning.

Page last updated Mon December 30th, 2013 at 09:05