Height Of November 10th Snow Event

Height Of November 10th Snow Event

Around 14:30 I took the dogs out for a walk during what was some of the most intense snowfall of the entire event on Sunday, November 10th. I struggled to walk just a bit more than a mile in 9″ to 10″ of dense, heavy snow; in hindsight I should’ve tried out my snow shoes! This image is looking east along the unmaintained portion of East Barge Drive from its intersection with Riven; the two dark dots on the road were my two canine companions who loved the chance to romp in the storm

Non-Standard NWS Terminology & Alaskan Winter Storms

After reviewing the results of the ‘small winter storm’ as it was termed by some of the locals and wading through the 12″ to 14″ of accumulated snow around my place two thoughts come to mind:  ‘better late than never’, and ‘be very careful what you wish for…!’.   Even after struggling to walk for just 42 minutes – the short distance I walked would have taken less than 25 minutes in wet or muddy conditions – through roughly 10″ of dense, heavy snow with moderate snow falling on Sunday afternoon I am definitely more of the former than latter.  I’d waited for what seemed like a full month to finally see my first Alaskan snow storm and while it certainly did take its good ole time in arriving when it finally showed up it did so in spades!  I remember briefly commenting last Thursday that NWS had just posted a ‘Winter Weather Advisory’ for this area but were forecast 6″ to 12″ of snow; in SE Michigan a ‘WWA’ is posted for 2″ to 4″ of snow.  What I experienced here would have prompted at minimum a ‘Winter Storm Warning’ and probably a ‘Heavy Snow Warning’ as well.  These discrepancies started me thinking and reflecting upon the fact that even though NWS serves all fifty states and does use the same forecast terminology the actual details associated with said terminology can obviously greatly differ.  Given what I noted a bit earlier in this piece I wonder what a ‘Winter Storm Warning’ would imply up here..?  Maybe high winds and 12″ to 18″ of total snow??  Does a ‘Heavy Snow Warning’ imply in excess of 24″ of the white stuff..?  This weekend’s storm did highlight I have a new set of learnings to digest in an unexpected area – NWS forecast terminology.  Of course this is fine by me as I expected I would have lots to learn as well as ‘re-learn’ regarding life in rural Alaska so I’m more than ready.

This ‘small storm’ was unusual, again in my experience, because there was no wind at all; the heavy, dense snow just landed on anything horizontal and quickly accumulated.  Naturally, this led to a power outage beginning around 15:00 AKST on Sunday and lasting almost six hours.  Here, too, I started thinking – if a small storm dropping a foot of snow across one and a half days could take down the local power grid for six hours what effects will a full-scale Alaskan blizzard have on this area?  We are vulnerable, and I knew this, because our electricity is produced in Palmer which is maybe 65 miles straight line to the SSE.  This means the transmission lines travel through some rugged areas and Wasilla is notorious for their wild winds based upon getting air flow off three different glaciers.  I still have around 19 gallons of gasoline for the generator but now I’m wondering if that would  be sufficient in the event of a truly severe storm.  Sadly up here losing power for days in January when the air temp is -20 F or colder could become life threatening although I will be purchasing an oil drip furnace which operates without electricity and I do have a white gas stove as well.

I’m now beginning to wonder about the ‘wisdom’ of deciding to wait to make any big-ticket purchases until I’d experienced all four seasons.  In one respect it was smart because I was leaning towards purchasing an ATV with a plow before a snow machine even though the locals I’d asked had to a person said get the snow machine first.  Seeing that East Barge still has a foot plus of snow on it one and a half days after the storm moved on makes me wonder if I’ll have reliable winter transportation.  An ATV couldn’t get through much more than a foot of snow and it might really struggle to do that much.  Again, if a ‘small storm’ could basically close the side roads for multiple days what would a much more severe storm do to transportation?  Although I drove my Escape around in the height of the storm Sunday afternoon with around 10 inches of snow on the ground I’m unsure I can get the SUV out of the driveway now.  If I cannot I currently have no other means of making the trip into Talkeetna for my Wednesday and Thursday evening local newscasts.  The obvious choice is a snow machine; even multiple feet of accumulation will not stop such a vehicle.  However, I can expect to drop a minimum of $10k for a new unit; my mechanical skills are poor enough I feel I must purchase either a new unit or a minimum mileage used model with a dealer warranty.

In keeping with the theme of learnings regarding rural Alaskan living I sure now understand why the locals all have snow shoes!  During the height of the snow storm I took the dogs out for a walk; I used my new Kenentech boots and they did yeoman’s service; they will be my ‘go to’ winter boots.  However, given the depth of the snow – around 10″ – and the consistency – dense and heavy – I really struggled.  A stretch of East Barge I can normally walk in less than 25 minutes required 42 minutes even walking in the ruts left by an earlier vehicle.  By the time I returned here I was beat and even the dogs were showing some fatigue.  I cannot imagine trying to walk any distance in a foot of this snow yet by January there could easily be two to three times that amount on the ground.  Yesterday I tried out my brand new MSR snow shoes and managed to stay upright and started to get a feel for the rhythm which is so obviously necessary if one is going to walk far.  Once again, I have a lot of learning to do but it will be fun.

I knew moving up here would be a true adventure and I have not been disappointed to this point and its only been a bit more than three months.  I truly look forward to the upcoming years as I fully expect I’ll need such amounts of time to really settle into rural Alaskan living; there’s just that much to experience and learn…or ‘re-learn’!  I’ve seen my first Alaskan snow storm and remain mightily impressed; while a bit daunting this also leaves me hungering for more.  And that’s just the way it should be..!


Early morning light just beginning to highlight the 12″ plus from November’s first snow storm.

CoCoRaHS Rain Gauge In Snow

CoCoRaHS Rain Gauge In Snow

Moderate snow has accumulated seven to eight inches in the past 24 hours with another inch or two expected. As you can see from the image there has been no wind whatsoever; the snow is accumulating right where it falls. Its also rather heavy and dense; in this morning’s CoCoRaHS report at 07:00 AKST I listed 2.8″ of snow depth with a liquid water content of 0.51″. This tracks with my observations as that means one inch of water would produce just 5.49″ of snow; a more ‘typical’ figure would be one inch of water producing 8″ to 10″ inches of snow. Hence, the snow is rather dense and water heavy.

The Relativity of Weather Alerts & Volunteer Newscasting

Its been a very warm and wet late summer and fall in much of Alaska and Talkeetna has been no different.  We’re already a week into November and we still have no snow on the ground although across the past few days the temperatures have finally returned to a more normal range with a low yesterday (Friday, 11/08) morning if just 6.3 F and an afternoon high of 22.3 F.  Yesterday I saw an alert issued by NWS for a rain/snow event over the weekend; this morning they had fleshed out said alert with details and these surprised me a bit.  Although NWS just posted a ‘Winter Weather Advisory’ for the northern Susitna River Valley including Talkeetna I was shocked to see the forecast calling for anywhere from six to twelve inches of snow by Sunday afternoon!  In SE Michigan this kind of snow accumulation would’ve generated a ‘Winter Storm Warning’ and probably even a ‘Heavy Snow Warning’ as well.  Yet up here its just a ‘Winter Weather Advisory’.  In SE Michigan such an advisory would be given for snowfall in the range of two to four inches.  Without question I’ll be re-learning the relative severity of NWS issued weather statements across the next few years.

After fumbling my way through my inaugural KTNA newscast last Thursday at noon the program director decided I was ready for a regular posting and assigned me to do the local evening news on Wednesdays and Thursdays from 18:00 to 18:25 AKST.  I was a bit surprised as I didn’t think I’d done very well at all but then the only way to improve one’s presence and delivery is to practice so the poor locals around Talkeetna will just have to buck up while I work to get my sound and rhythm perfected and in place.  All the staff and volunteers I’ve spoken to have been very kind and supportive; without question its their personalities that really encouraged me to give this volunteering a shot.  Never having done anything like this previously it has been a bit of stretch and that’s okay because I’ve found that while I’m usually initially hesitant I ultimately do enjoying forcing myself to try new things.  I suppose to most folks packing up one’s household, driving it 4200 miles to a place one has never lived previously, unloading it and then working to settle into a rural lifestyle after living exclusively urban in the lower 48 for 60 years could qualify as a bit of ‘stretching’ but to me it was fulfilling a dream so I really don’t see it from that same perspective.  Without question I’ve finally found ‘home’ and in this sense the staff and volunteers of KTNA are rather like my extended family.  I am looking forward to really making a place for myself in this eclectic community and I know my on-air volunteering will indeed help this happen..!

Two Views of Denali

Denali In Early AM Light

This was taken around Mile 5 of the Spur leading into Talkeetna. The morning sunlight of November 8, 2013 is producing an ‘Alpen Glow’ effect on the mighty mountain

Denali Noon 11082013

Here’s almost the same view of the ‘Old Man’ taken maybe three hours later on the same date (11/08/13); notice the long shadows?  These serve to illustrate just how low on the horizon the November sun really is as this image was taken around 12:15 AKST and that’s just half an hour before the solar maximum for that date!

First Time For Everything!

Just wanted to let everyone know I’ll be reading my first on-air newscast for KTNA on Thursday, November 7th at 12:00 local (16:00 EST).  The regular reader has a schedule conflict so the program manager/volunteer coordinator asked me to come in around 11:00 so we could review my demo in depth, I can get all the feedback I can and then get the news stories pre-read and my broadcast organized by noon.  Definitely going to be a bit ‘exciting’ especially because being live means there are no ‘mulligans’.  Once I get a regular slot I’ll share it with everyone; I am 99% sure it will be doing the evening local news (18:00 AKST) as that’s where the biggest holes currently exist in coverage.

Since So Many Folks Seem To Enjoy Glaciers…


This is a shot of the Exit Glacier in Kenai Fjords NP with its run-off in the foreground; the glacier is just a bit north of Seward in the Kenai Peninsula.  It is an alpine style glacier and sadly has been retreating very quickly across the past few decades

Portage Glacier 2

Here is the Portage Glacier which is located in the northern Kenai Peninsula; it is a classic Alpine Glacier

AK 8 Alaska Range w-Glacier

The Alaska Range is full of glaciers and there’s an unnamed glacier sweeping down from The Alaska Range foothills in this image taken from the Paxson end of the Denali Highway (AK 8).  This image was taken in early September of 2002 and although it was snowy and cold in the immediate vicinity of the mountains just getting a few tens of miles to the north or south saw sunshine and air temps in the fifties.

Matanuska Glacier Head On

The toe of the mighty Matanuska Glacier as seen from a school driveway off the Glenn Highway.  This glacier cut the Matanuska Valley which runs for over 100 miles east-west and separates the Chugach Mountains to the south from the Talkeetna Mountains to the north