Creaking Snow & Cold Valleys

Winter finally arrived in south central Alaska a week ago Sunday with a snow event that dropped around a foot of snow over the Talkeetna area.  However, the same ridge pattern that has been keeping the temps so warm as well as pushing moist air into the region held on until this weekend when it finally broke down; with its collapse the cold air from the Arctic began filtering into the state and it appears to be making up for lost time.  Early Sunday morning I recorded a low of -2.7 F but thanks to continuing clear skies and almost no wind this morning I saw -10.1 F just as the sun began to paint morning in the east.  That’s quite a bit cooler than normal for November 18th which is a high of 27 F and a low of 12 F.  On Sunday our temp ranged from 10.4 F to -2.6 F giving us a mean temp of just 3.6 F even though there were crystal clear sky conditions.  So it appears that after an exceptionally wet and warm September and October the ole scales have swung back and now we’re seeing air temps that are more common for January and February.

While walking the dogs yesterday late morning with the air temp right at zero I was delighted to hear something I haven’t heard in ages; the snow was creaking under foot!  Anyone with experience in snow and air temps below 0 F has heard this sound; with each step the snow emits a grinding, creaking noise as one’s sole presses down upon it.  This phenomena becomes more prevalent as the air temp drops and is also effected by the snow’s moisture content although once you get much below 0 F the snow is almost always dry and relatively low in water content.  Although I’ve heard this effect many times in my life it was extremely noticeable up here; I could hear the creaking over the Huskies barking at our passage down by John and Ruth’s place.  It dawned on me that the reason for the apparent volume was really due to a number of facts; first off, its just plain very quiet up here.  I’ve written of my love of the extreme silence which just seems to wrap this area in a thick, comfortable blanket.  Secondly this effect is heightened by the thick snow cover which still remains on all the foliage and ground; there has been no wind strong enough to dislodge it!  The thick layer of snow acts a an additional layer of sound absorption and so heightens the perceived silence.  Lastly, the very cold air temps have now been in place for a couple of days and the snow exposed to the air is dehydrating; this really increases the ability of the snow to groan and creak when compacted.  All these items add up to allowing the snow to really make noise as my heavy weight size 11.5 Kenetrek boot soles dig into the snow for traction.  It will be very interesting to see just how the snow noises will change when I walk the dogs this morning; I’m betting the sounds will be sharper and more pronounced.

During yesterday’s walk I observed the long shadows even though it right around noon; I also could feel a definite chill in the areas of the roads that were shielded from the sun by the trees or landscape.  This really became apparent when I would walk into a low area that was shaded; the air was noticeably cooler.  Of course cooler air is more dense and hence heavier so it will sink into the low spots of the terrain; if in a survival situation in cold temps its always better to find a location to overnight that is a bit above the lowest areas in order to be just a bit warmer.  While I’ve felt this condition in the past it is much more noticeable up here.  Any road running east-west feels cooler than another that runs more north-south because the latter will feel some effects from the sunlight; in this area the boreal forest is just too tall and dense to allow any sunlight to filter through and strike a road running east-west.  This is exacerbated by the very low angle of the sun this time of year; while I didn’t actually measure the sun’s angle at it’s high point it cannot be much more than twelve degrees above the horizon.

I’m learning that so many situations are amplified up here and there’s a message in this recognition; while cold can be deadly anywhere in the world up here it can and does kill very quickly.  What I could get by wearing in a Michigan winter can be completely ineffective up here in terms of keeping me warm.  Making just a quick run to the local grocery or hardware stores still requires one ‘suit up’ for the weather because there are sections of the Spur with no houses or buildings visible for at least a mile and based upon the weather trying to walk that after one’s vehicle breaks down without proper clothing can easily lead to frost nip, frost bite or even death.  This is an amazingly beautiful land with wonders of sight and sound to fill one’s soul but it can also be a very unforgiving land to those who would be careless or too cavalier.  Just another learning that I best take to heart and always keep in mind..!

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