The longer I’ve lived in Talkeetna the more familiar I’ve become with not just the local weather but general weather trends of the ‘immediate’ area which I’ve arbitrarily chosen to be around 80 miles in any direction from Talkeetna. I do know that heading south from Mile 7.1 on the Spur can see air temps decrease by as much as 6 degrees F when finally reaching the intersection of the Spur and the Parks Highway (7.1 miles). Yet then heading north on the Parks Highway to Trapper Creek which is around 18 miles one can see the air temp increase by as much as 12 F! While I have yet to really dig into the local topology I’m betting the network of hills and valleys that radiate out from the south side of the mighty Alaska Range are prime components of this variability. In addition the location of glaciers and the wind patterns off the Alaska Range will also figure into the equation.
Across the last four months I’ve come to notice that Talkeetna gets very little in the way of high winds and this is especially true when looking at areas within that ‘immediate’ range. This morning a CoCoRaHS (Community Collaborative Rain, Hail & Snow Network) station in Palmer (straight line distance around 65 miles SSE of Talkeetna) reported a wind gust of 78.1 mph while the local airport reported gusts to 73 mph; Wasilla observed gusts to 54 mph while Denali National Park & Preserve reported gusts to 48 mph. Yet here in Talkeetna our airport reported gusts of ‘just’ 32 mph. The extremes reported in the Wasilla and Palmer areas have a lot to do with the presence of three glaciers in their immediate vicinity as well as the Talkeetna Mountains and the Chugach Mountains. However, all of these sites will regularly report wind speeds and gusts well above those in Talkeetna. Thus, when we do begin to see wind gusts above 30 mph it’s definitely getting windy and that means the weather is going to change. Given the fog, freezing rain and drizzle of the last week most of us are more than ready to see that change! Assuming the NWS forecasts are accurate we’ll be seeing lows dropping to around -20 F with wind chills in the -35 F to -50 F range beginning tonight. Although the current air temp is 22.1 F at 10:24 AKST its forecast to be just -3 F by 17:00 with wind chills around -25 F.
I’ve noticed I’ve become sensitive towards hearing wind; after all, we just do not get a lot of it and so to hear it sighing through the pines and birch trees is a bit unusual. I awoke around 00:55 this morning and then lay in bed awake and listening to the song of the wind for another half hour or so before I finally drifted off to sleep again. In windy conditions I can hear the creaking of the birches as well since they surround my house and reach up to fifty feet and higher. In classic boreal forest configuration they are tall but very thin and lack much in the way of limbs until one hits 12 to 18 feet in height. Because of their relatively thin trunks as versed with their heights they are susceptible to a lot of ‘waving’ motion in high winds. This explains a lot of the creaking and groaning I hear during periods of high winds.
Without question the presence of more robust winds in the Talkeetna area means a change in the weather and often a fairly substantial change. This current event will be no different given we’ll be dropping from high temps in the upper 20’s to high’s in the minus single digits in less than 24 hours. In addition as these winds are expected to continue across the next 36 hours we will be seeing night-time wind chills in the -30 F to -50 F range. And all the locals from Willow north along the Parks Highway also know that wind often means an interruption in the electrical grid as our power is generated in Palmer and thus travels many miles across areas which do get strong winds to make it to places like Talkeetna, Trapper Creek, Broad Pass, Summit and Cantwell. I’ve become enough of a local to have already made sure the generator is fueled and ready to go when – and it is a matter of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’ the power drops out.
For now I’ll have to be satisfied with the cold as there doesn’t appear to be any sizable snow events in the near term. It’s definitely neat to understand that any time one sees relatively high winds in this area the weather will be guaranteed to change and often it will embody the extreme shifts that seem to be one of the hallmarks of Alaskan meteorology. Time to break out the battery blanket and the oil pan warmer; all things I’ve come to regard as requirements when wintering in Alaska just as is the routine of prepping my generator when the winds begin to blow…