John McCaslin

Iraq and Guantanamo pullouts aside, Secretary of State nominee Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton was reminded by Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski during her confirmation hearing Tuesday that the United States is an "Arctic nation," therefore Barack Obama's administration must work diligently to preserve the country's ice.

Mrs. Clinton took the Republican senator's cue and recalled being shocked to learn that passenger cruise ships actually dock at Point Barrow (pop. 3,982), the northernmost tip of the United States.

In reality, it comes close to being warm in Barrow during the summer, the balmiest month being July. The highest temperature ever recorded in the Alaskan town was 79 degrees Fahrenheit in 1993. In comparison, Barrow's winters are downright frigid, although it's much more unbearable hundreds of miles south, especially this unusually cold winter of 2009.

For instance, the lowest temperature ever recorded in Barrow was minus-56 Fahrenheit in 1924. The coldest temperature ever recorded in the Northern Hemisphere was minus-90 Fahrenheit in both Verkhoyanski and Oimekon in Siberia, the latter 209 miles south of the Arctic Circle.

As the pair of senators chatted about Barrow's melting ice, the temperature in the town was minus-22 degrees Fahrenheit, with a feel-like temperature of minus-41 degrees.

As for the curious cruise liners, which bring welcome commerce and conversation to America's most isolated town, passenger ships have long visited equally remote outposts of other Arctic nations, including Kirkenes, Norway (the northernmost tip of Europe, where this columnist once filed stories about roaming reindeer), and the nearby Russian Navy seaport of Murmansk, the world's largest city north of the Arctic Circle (pop. 336,137).

Actually, these two Arctic seaports are generally ice free, given warm ocean currents originating in the Gulf of Mexico. Good luck cruising to either place, or Point Barrow for that matter, in the dead of winter. Not only are layers of clothing required for survival (Murmansk's temperature during Tuesday's congressional hearing was minus-4 degrees Fahrenheit), the sun doesn't rise for days on end.


While "change" will come to Washington with Tuesday's swearing-in of President-elect Barack Obama, his inauguration ceremony will follow tradition to a tee.

John McCaslin

John McCaslin is a contributing columnist on and author of Inside The Beltway: Offbeat Stories, Scoops, and Shenanigans from around the Nation's Capital .

Be the first to read John McCaslin's column. Sign up today and receive delivered each morning to your inbox.