In the summer, the residents of Whittier, Alaska, bask in sunlight for 22 hours each day. And in the summer months, there is always something to do to accommodate the 700,000 tourists who annually visit the small town on Prince William Sound, about 58 miles (93 km) southeast of Anchorage. But during the cold and damp winter, in America’s wettest city (with an average annual precipitation of 197.8 inches or 502.4 cm), Whittier's 218 or so permanent residents primarily stay indoors. Nearly everyone in the town lives in a single apartment building -- Begich Towers. Along with the residents' condominiums, the high-rise building has everything they might need, including a play area for kids, a Methodist church, a post office, a clinic, two convenience stores, a police station, a video rental store, city offices, and a laundromat.
For most, a fair-weather town:
- The 14-story building, named for Nick Begich, a U.S. congressman who is presumed to have died in a 1972 plane crash, was originally home to military personnel.
- Whittier is a seasonal town, popular with cruise lines. It's accessible by boat or a single-lane tunnel (the traffic direction changes every 30 minutes) through Maynard Mountain, a route that links Whittier with Anchorage.
- The region was once part of the portage route of the native Chugach people, and later the passage was used by Russian and American explorers, and by prospecting gold miners.