For four months, Alert exist in total darkness. For another four months, the sun never leaves the sky, but rising no more than 30 degrees above the horizon at noon. The land remains frozen and snow covered for almost ten months of the year. Winters are harsh and cold with temperatures regularly dropping thirty degrees below zero. Peak summer temperatures are just a couple of degrees above freezing.
The community of Alert is named after HMS Alert, a British ship which set up camp near Alert in the winters of 1875–76. The ship's captain, George Nares, and his crew were the first recorded people to reach the northern end of Ellesmere Island.
The weather station was established here in 1950. The military station came eight years later. During the Cold War, Alert was strategically important because it was the only point in North America that was closest to the northwestern area of the Soviet Union. In fact, Alert is closer to Moscow (2,500 miles or 4,000 km) than it is to Ottawa (2,580 miles or 4,150 km). Alert’s proximity to the Soviet Union allowed the US-Canada-UK-Australia-New Zealand intelligence sharing alliance, also known as the Five Eyes, to eavesdrop on the Russian communication network. The station soon became a key asset in the global ECHELON network.
At its peak, CFS Alert had upwards of 215 personnel posted at any one time. But after budget cuts in the 1990s, CFS Alert was downsized to approximately 74 personnel, but during summers, its population can rise to over hundred.