One of the reasons I chose Alaska as my new home was its extreme weather in general and its extreme winter weather in particular. Growing up in SE Michigan I was no stranger to cool temps and some snow but I always yearned to see temps in the minus double digits and snow measured in feet. These extremes just didn’t often occur in any of the places I’ve lived from south central Wisconsin to northwest Ohio. I believe the coldest air I’ve ever experienced was the record-setting Arctic outbreak in Chicago during the winter of ’84 – ’85 when the city set it’s all time low at -27 F. Surprisingly the most snow I’ve ever experienced came from a blizzard in Greenville (IL) which dropped 28″ of snow overnight and paralyzed the city of St Louis – roughly 70 miles to the ESE – for three days in 1982. Both of these events were very unusual and extreme in the max for their respective locations. Still and all I wanted to live someplace where these conditions were not so unusual and in fact could be almost guaranteed to occur once or twice a winter. In this sense Talkeetna fit my needs quite nicely.
Of course there were many other reasons why I chose to retire here and said choice required many weeks of deliberation and research as I narrowed down my options but the likelihood of heavy snow and cold temps was a definite factor. As I’ve written earlier I was dismayed by the wet, warm September and October; it seemed we would never see winter. But then we received a foot of snow across the weekend of November 9th and 10th followed by extremely cold air filtering into the region the following weekend. And so I discovered a bone chilling low of -17.8 F on Tuesday (11/19) morning. The previous day the temp barely cracked 0 F even in brilliant sunshine and Wednesday we topped out at -2.7 F. This is the kind of weather I’d been dreaming of experiencing and now its just outside my door! Imagine my excitement when I saw a low of -21.7 F the following morning and saw -20.6 F early on Thursday morning before the temp shot up to 0 F in just four hours in response to an approaching snow event. I was finally seeing the bitter cold I’d hungered after and I could hardly wait to get outside and experience it. When I let the dogs out around 06:30 Wednesday morning I observed something I’d never previously seen; upon opening the door a thick cloud of condensation formed right at the interface. It was sudden and thick enough that I could not see through it. In hindsight that shouldn’t have been a surprise as given it was around -20 F outside and the indoor air was 60 F there was an 80 F temp differential and the cold air was very dry while there was much more humidity with the inside air. Still and all it was downright impressive to witness.
During the extreme cold on Tuesday and Wednesday I did manage to get outside with the dogs a number of times and in so doing I discovered the entire world is different in minus double-digit cold! The air is so much more clear and colors are so much more vibrant; everything has a ‘razor sharp’ clarity to it. Sounds seem to carry much further and even soft sounds have a fullness to them which seems abnormal. There’s also the incredible silence; while its normally very quiet up here that sense of immense silence is amplified by both the extreme cold and the thick layer of snow which acts as a sound damper. The snow creaks and groans as one walks upon it; I’d heard these sounds previously when the air temp would dip below zero but at -13 F it was much more pronounced. My walking produced far more noise than anything else in my vicinity and at times it seemed almost deafening. The dogs just loved the extreme cold; while my GSD Qanuk is normally excited about any opportunity to go outside he was absolutely ecstatic when it was so cold. He repeatedly ran deep into the boreal forest leaping and driving through the foot of snow that covers the ground. Anana, my Alaskan Malamute, had a real spring in her step and she too wandered off into the forest at regular intervals although I could see she just didn’t think wading through a foot of snow for fun was all that much fun! I did have to cut our outside time to less than 50 minutes mainly out of concern for Qanuk; while he has a solid coat his breed lacks the thick double layer design that allows Mals, Huskies, Chows, Akitas, Samoyeds and similar breeds to laugh at extreme cold. Even so we had a marvelous time in the extreme cold.
My relocation to rural south central Alaska has been an amazing adventure to this point and I suspect it will continue to be so for some time to come. In addition I’ve thoroughly enjoyed partaking of the myriad of learnings associated with making this transition. After the brief spate of extremely cold temps I’ve had the knowledge I need to construct a garage or similar shelter for my car next fall solidly reinforced. I’ve also ordered a battery blanket and oil pan warmer to assist my Escape in starting on such brutally cold mornings. I will be applying window insulation to the second floor windows as the upper floor was easily ten degrees cooler than the main floor where the furnace is located. I learned that while the mud room gets very cold – it was down to 41 F on early Thursday morning – it will not freeze the water pipes if I activate the crawl space heater whenever the air temp drops below -15 F. I know I have a myriad of upcoming experiences and learnings to discover and for me that’s part of the magic and mystery of living in rural Alaska!