The 2020 census started months early in this remote Alaskan fishing village
Updated 8:36 PM ET, Tue January 21, 2020
(CNN)It's so cold that the ground is frozen in Toksook Bay.
And for the census workers who've descended on this remote Alaskan fishing village, that's a good thing.
It means they'll have a chance to reach more people -- and count them.
For most Americans, the 2020 census won't begin for months. But for decades the decennial count has started early in Alaska, where large portions of the state aren't connected by roads and can have spotty mail service.
"Alaska's vast, sparsely settled areas traditionally are the first to be counted," the Census Bureau says. "Local census takers must get a head start while the frozen ground allows easier access to the remote areas with unique accessibility challenges."
And on Tuesday, they started in Toksook Bay -- where around 660 people live, where snowmobiles are a major form of transportation, and where 54-year-old Robert Pitka says this is the biggest event the community has seen in his lifetime.
As the tribal administrator for the Nunakauyak Traditional Council, Pitka has been working with federal officials for more than a year to prepare for the census, which he describes as a "history-making event" for Toksook Bay.
"I'm still trying to grasp how I can explain it," he says. "It's special."
The island village, where residents rely on subsistence fishing and hunting to survive, is located on the Bering Sea in southwest Alaska.