Eyes on the Arctic
“I told you about the Howard Pass station, didn’t I?” Ken Hill asks. When Hill talks about weather his eyes shine. “The wind gauge keeps getting blown off. It’s one of the lowest passes in the Brooks Range and the frigid air from the North Slope gets sucked into the Kobuk Valley through that pass.” He pauses to smile. “That’s why we put the station there.”
In mid-June of 2019 I accompanied National Park Service scientists Pam Sousanes and Ken Hill while they did annual maintenance on two of the weather stations in Gates of the Arctic National Park: at Chimney Rock and Pamichtuk Lake.
The western Brooks Range is roughly the size of Pennsylvania, but doesn’t contain a single road. It does, however, contain 17 weather stations maintained by the National Park Service.
The Arctic is warming faster than anywhere on the planet, but its remoteness makes weather monitoring complicated. The 17 stations span Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, Noatak National Preserve, Kobuk Valley National Park, Cape Krusenstern National Monument, and Bering Land Bridge National Preserve. The east-to-west span is over 400 miles. There are four weather stations in Gates of the Arctic, approximately one station for every two million acres.
In addition to monitoring climate trends, the weather data collected by Sousanes and Hill are incorporated into weather models used for forecasting by the National Weather Service. Real-time weather observations are publicly available. Try it yourself: go to https://www.wrh.noaa.gov/map. Inside the viewer, search for Howard Pass, then go to the “overlays” dialog box, click the “observations” tab and make sure the “surface observations” box is checked. Then in the “display” drop down choose “Wind Gust” to see how hard the wind is blowing there right now! Explore around to see weather observations across the state in real time!
These photos were taken in cooperation with the National Park Service.