LISTEN: Ringing in the new year (a little late) in northwest Alaska

Alexander Burnor and his fiance Anita Monroe look on as Kotzebue celebrates the new year with fireworks on Jan. 1, 2020. (Photo by Wesley Early, KOTZ – Kotzebue)

While people around Alaska and the world as a whole rang in the New Year with collective celebration and thunderous fireworks displays, the city of Kotzebue was left out in the cold — literally. 

The community was informed on New Year’s Eve that due to high winds and frigid temperatures, the annual fireworks show would be postponed. Luckily, they didn’t have to wait very long to celebrate, as the weather cleared up New Year’s Day, allowing for sparks to fly over Kotzebue Sound.

There was no shortage of excitement, despite the delay. 

Rockets whizzed and crowds cheered as blasts of green, red, white and blue colored the skies over Kotzebue. Cars were parked all the way down Front Street near the shore as people gathered on the sea ice to watch the spectacle. 

One of the spectators was Richard Atoruk. He says the weather was much better on New Year’s Day for the show than the day before. 

Spectators gathered on the sea ice of the Kotzebue Sound to watch the fireworks display on Jan. 1, 2020. (Photo by Wesley Early, KOTZ – Kotzebue)

“It’s not bad. It’s good. No wind,” Atoruk said. “Especially that north wind. The north wind has been pretty cold the past few days. But it’s a good calm wind for today.”

That New Year’s Eve north wind hit Kotzebue at 26 miles an hour, bringing a wind chill of -38 degrees Fahrenheit with it. The calm winds and -9 wind chill a day later were much more agreeable.

“Oh it’s just the right temperature,” said Kotzebue local Alexander Burnor. “Yesterday was kinda cold. But today it’s perfect. We were all excited and waiting for the fireworks. This is the first time bringing my whole family to the fireworks. It’s pretty special.”

And Burnor had a little more to celebrate as the sky erupted with blasts of color. 

“I just had got engaged to my girlfriend here tonight. I just proposed,” Burnor said.

And while Burnor and his fiance Anita Monroe celebrated with their kids on one section of sea ice, there were plenty of other groups scattered about, excited to ring in the new year.

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Wesley Early covers municipal politics and Anchorage life for Alaska Public Media. Reach him at

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