I'm Dreaming of a Brown Christmas: The Great Alaska Chinook of December 1934 (329)

Eric Stevens, University of Alaska Fairbanks, Fairbanks, AK

Richard Thoman, National Weather Service



Fairbanks Alaska has more than a century of weather and climate observations. But only once, in the aftermath of the Great Alaska Chinook of 1934, has Fairbanks experienced a brown Christmas. This event set temperature records at several locations across Alaska, and many of those records stand to this day. Temperatures in Fairbanks, just over 100 miles south of the Arctic Circle, peaked above 50 F for five consecutive days, with low temperatures remaining above freezing on two days. The nearby community of Nenena reached 60 F, and down on the Gulf of Alaska a thunderstorm shook the village of Seward. The question naturally comes up: what weather scenario could yield such extreme weather? Before the era of weather satellites, weather radar, widespread use of weather balloons, available data are limited to surface observations and the testimony of contemporary witnesses, which can now be supplemented by reanalysis. Drawing upon this information, the Chinook of 1934 will be described and compared to the Chinook of September 1995, a similarly impressive event that occurred in an era when much more meteorological documentation is available. Lastly, the societal impact of the 1934 event will be summarized.