Anchorage residents have been waking up to fog most days recently. But do the cold temperatures that go along with it make it technically “ice fog”?
To answer that question, we spoke with Brian Brettschneider, a climatologist in Anchorage who closely tracks Alaska climate data and trends. Alaska’s Energy Desk is checking in with him regularly as part of the segment, Ask-A -limatologist.
He told Energy Desk editor Annie Feidt you can’t have ice fog unless it’s at least 30 below zero.
Brian: Even though it’s been in the single digits and even close to zero the last few days in Anchorage, it’s actually regular fog. It’s no different than a fog that would happen in July or August, it’s just colder outside. The fog particles themselves are actually little microscopic liquid water droplets.
Annie: How is that different than an ice fog?
Brian: With ice fog, instead of liquid water droplets, the fog particles are actually ice crystals. That doesn’t happen until you’re at a minimum of -30 degrees Fahrenheit. In rural areas you wouldn’t see it until it’s at least -40 or -45 Fahrenheit.
Annie: Is it something you can just see is different?
Brian: No. You can’t actually see what the fog is made out of. Even though you see fog and have reduced visibility, you’re not actually seeing the water droplets. It can condense out into mist or even ice crystals or snowflakes. But you can’t see the particles, so you wouldn’t know by looking whether it’s freezing fog or ice fog, you would need to look at the thermometer.
Annie: Does ice fog act differently in how it forms or how it dissipates?
Brian: It’s a very, very cold phenomenon. The nucleus of the fog particles is typically pollution- automobile exhaust or even smoke particles from fire places. When it gets cold enough, there becomes a point where it’s so cold that it’s almost impossible not to have ice fog. I think if it’s -60 or -70, no matter where you are, possibly with the exception of Antarctica, you’re going to get ice fog, whether the atmospheric conditions are conducive for fog or not, it’s just so cold that any little particle in the atmosphere is going to start collecting ice crystals on it.