One of the facets of living in this rural area that I most enjoy is the ‘immense silence’; I can go days and never hear any man-made sounds other than those I make. I’ve become very much used to this wonderful quiet so imagine my surprise when it was broken last week by huge and extremely loud ‘thumps’ many of which actually shook the entire house! At first I was clueless but then a quick look outside at the base of the house revealed the source; with the extraordinary warmth all this month the two feet plus of snow on the roof, now decreased to less than 18″ through melting and far too much rain and freezing rain, was finally beginning to break apart and drop to the ground. Given the composition of these pieces – easily 50% ice – and the random sizing – between just a foot square out to many feet square – it’s not a surprise the larger pieces could produce such dramatic results. Late last week I had to straighten a number of wall hanging pictures which had been knocked askew by vibrations from the huge thumps created by the falling snow/ice chunks. Poor Qanuk was driven to distraction by the really large pieces falling; he either cowered in his crate or ran to me for reassurance!
Even though the roofs up here have a very steep pitch and are made of metal to expedite the removal of the snow loading this had not happened until now. Add to this fact the collected snow was saturated first by freezing rain and later by just plain rain the resultant mixture was extremely heavy. As the following image show the pieces can be quite large although this image is of a piece getting ready to drop from the front porch roof and as such generated no real noise or vibration because the distance it fell was so short. However, imagine chunks this size or larger falling from the second story roof and you get some idea of the nature of these situations. This is yet another key learning involving living up here and one that is most valued. A buddy and I will be putting up an enclosure this fall to allow me to get my Ford Escape out of the elements. Aligning it with any portion of the house which produces such snow and ice chunks would be disastrous; thankfully now i know what to look for and we will site said enclosure to be clear of the falling winter borne debris. Just another interesting piece of rural Alaskan living…
I just returned from a mere 35 minutes of walking the dogs; I had to cut it short because not only was my left Achilles tendon aching – I injured it on New Year’s Eve – but it was starting to rain. I have been trying to let that Achilles Tendon heal over the past six days by cutting all exercise; previously I tried to just ignore the ache and push through it but all that did was make it slowly worse until it really ached and I was limping as a result of the pain. My canine companions have been very good given they went seven days with only indoor exercise but the strain on Qanuk in particular was beginning to show. I had hoped they would play with each other more in the house but that hasn’t happened and in retrospect it’s no surprise.
I knew when I added Qanuk to the pack I was bringing a breed in which is the polar opposite of the Alaskan Malamute; I thought perhaps Anana could moderate some of the German Shepherd Dog’s innate urge to be protective and a super watch dog while Qanuk might teach Anana to be at least a bit more concerned about strangers on her property. While the former did take place, and in retrospect too much so, the latter remains a dream. I also brought Qanuk on as a partner for Anana and a playmate and this hasn’t really happened. In hindsight it’s no surprise given how the two breeds view ‘play’. Mals do not play with ‘things’, they play with other beings. German Shepherds will play that way but far and away they play with toys of which a tennis ball is probably their absolute favorite. While Qanuk and Anana may start to mix it up Anana must continually take the lead if they are to play much at all; as soon as she backs off Qanuk grabs his ball and Anana could care less. This means they then look to me to play and now I have two dogs hungering for play of totally different types. I could get Anana to chase a Frisbee when young but only for a few throws; then she wanted to wrestle or just run. Qanuk will chase either a tennis ball or a Frisbee until he drops.
I feel so badly for both dogs as they’ve been so very good regarding the recent lack of exercise; this drove me to take them out today and I’m paying for it already with a very sore Achilles tendon. They cannot understand that their exercise has been limited because the alpha male is hurting; indeed, I’ve seen Qanuk play on even when he’s scraped a pad raw on concrete back in the lower 48. In that same vein I had to regulate his exposure to the cold ground when it was really cold up here – right now that seems like a dream – because he would remain outside far too long and then suffer with very tender paws for the next few hours. I wish I could just ignore the pain and take them on daily long walks but that’s out of the question based on my experience from January 1st through January 7th. Of course today would’ve been short even if I wasn’t nursing an injured Achilles tendon because of the rain.
It’s just unimaginable that it’s never stayed below freezing four out of the previous five days! Even more unimaginable is the forecast which is calling for lows in the 30’s and highs in the mid to upper 40’s through next week!! For Heaven’s sake; as of this point if I’d remained in SE Michigan this winter I’d have seen as much snow and almost as cold temps!! The lowest temp I’ve seen this winter was -24.2 F yet I know SE Michigan saw -19 F a week back and that’s only five degrees warmer than the coldest its been up here. A major reason why I chose Alaska was to experience some truly cold and snowy winters and to escape the little snow and temps in the middle thirties I’d endured for years in SE Michigan; its like that damn weather followed me up here!
I know this is an anomaly and its virtually assured that I’ll see truly cold and snowy winters upcoming but I’m afraid this one’s a lost cause. Historically December and January are the two coldest months in Talkeetna yet there’s only ten days remaining in January and the forecast for almost all of them is way above normal temps and rain. I cannot imagine all the snow melting from the ground in February but if the warm weather continues this will happen. Good grief; when I flew up here in early April of 2013 to locate my home there was over 30 inches of snow on the ground and I saw temps that regularly dropped into the minus teens and often never made the middle teens during the day. However, what can one do..? Ole Mother Nature will do as she sees fit and we’re just along for the ride…
In my five and half months of living above 62 degrees north latitude I’ve learned many things regarding the effects that this location imposes upon daily life. Without question the meteorological effects are more extreme and definitely more pronounced but so are other aspects such as light. I recently experienced my first Winter Solstice above 62 degrees north latitude and it was definitely different from all those I experienced in the lower 48; the day was very short with not much light and a lot of darkness. Now in the lower 48 I remember seeing almost no perceptible shift in the daylight until we were well into February and I am a sky watcher and hence more aware of such nuances. However, up here, within two weeks I could definitely tell the daylight was increasing and that has continued to this writing. We are currently adding 3 minutes and 30 seconds of daylight per day and it is very noticeable. Yet this figure is the same regardless of where one is on the earth – okay, if you’re in the southern hemisphere then the daylight is decreasing but it’s still doing so by this same amount – so why is it so noticeable at higher latitudes yet becomes harder and harder to discern as one approaches the equator..?
My suspicion is it’s based upon the geometry of a sphere and one that’s tilted at roughly 23 degrees to the vertical in conjunction with the atmosphere. I’ve never been good with mathematics in general and geometry in particular but I can imagine the earth as a roughly spherical object (if ya want to get picky I guess it’s closer to an egg shape…) tilted 23 degrees off the vertical axis and not just spinning but also orbiting the sun. It’s the tilt that gives the earth its seasons; as it orbits the sun one of the two hemispheres (northern or southern) will at one point be closer to the sun – and hence have ‘summer’ – and at the opposite position in its orbit be tilted away from the sun and hence experience ‘winter’. So far, so good… Now, its known that the thickness of the atmosphere varies with location; it is thickest at the equator and slowly decreases as one moves towards the poles This means that sunlight reaching the earth has to travel through different thicknesses of atmosphere to reach the surface. The more atmosphere the light travels through the more diffuse it becomes; its scattered by all the various molecules in the atmosphere. Therefore at lower latitudes incoming light travels through more atmosphere and is more scattered and hence more diffuse and so would appear to be ‘weaker’ than light striking the higher latitudes. This could well account for the perceived slower shift to increasing daylight in the lower 48 as to up here; the more diffuse and ‘weaker’ light requires more time to finally begin to show a change where as in the higher latitudes the light is not scattered and diffused as much so smaller changes are more easily perceived by our eyes. This also explains that phenomena of ‘flat light’ that photographers often speak to; it’s this same sharper, stronger light that traveled through less atmosphere.
Or at least this all sounds well and good; an interesting test would be to find a planet with the same tilt but no atmosphere to use as a baseline. If this summation is correct the perceived increase/decrease of light on the planet without an atmosphere would appear to be the same regardless of one’s latitude. It’s these kinds of situations I enjoy investigating; to me they are not immediately obvious yet they are undeniable. Without question the less thick atmosphere produces some other effects at the higher latitudes; I suspect this is the reason I see such amazing barometric pressure swings up here. Just this past Monday I saw a pressure reading of 28.88″ Hg (978.26 Mb) which is extremely low and would be something one might see in the eye of a medium strength hurricane in the lower 48 yet up here it was just low pressure; we did see a bit of snow along with it but no winds or other extreme weather.
It’s an interesting experience living in the higher latitudes; it makes me wonder what it would be like living at 80 degrees north latitude if not higher..? I suspect I’ll never know as the farthest north piece of Alaska is around 71.5 degrees north latitude. Still and all its fun to wonder…
On a snowy Tuesday afternoon I was walking the dogs and decided to shoot a picture down my currently absent neighbor’s driveway which looks onto Question Lake which is the white expanse about center of frame
This was posted this morning on the NWS Anchorage website and it heralds something that’s just unbelievable. To imagine that even south central Alaska will be seeing temps above freezing in middle January is absurd but to see those temps reach 40 F and involve rain is just unbelievable!! This winter has already been extremely mild and now we could well be seeing some of the most mild weather yet. I truly am beginning to wonder just what’s going on with the state’s weather; I moved up here for cold and snow and thus far this winter most of that’s been in the lower 48 from whence I came..! Not much I can do as Mother Nature will do as she pleases but I’m really beginning to wonder if I’ll see much snow at all this winter let alone cold…
Special Weather Statement
SPECIAL WEATHER STATEMENT
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE ANCHORAGE AK
900 AM AKST MON JAN 13 2014
...UNUSUALLY WARM AND WET CONDITIONS TO IMPACT SOUTHERN ALASKA LATE
WEDNESDAY NIGHT TO SATURDAY...
A SERIES OF FAST-MOVING STORM SYSTEMS WILL MOVE NORTH ACROSS SOUTHERN
ALASKA THIS WEEK WITH ORIGINS IN THE SUBTROPICAL PACIFIC OCEAN. WITH
EACH PASSING STORM...WARMER AIR ALOFT WILL CONTINUE TO PUSH FURTHER
NORTH AND WEST INTO THE STATE. LATE WEDNESDAY THROUGH SATURDAY...A
STRONG AND EXTREMELY MOIST SERIES OF STORM SYSTEMS IS POISED TO SWEEP
ACROSS THE STATE AND BRING PERIODS OF HEAVY RAINFALL TO COASTAL
LOCATIONS...WITH PERIODS OF LIGHT RAIN FOR INLAND LOCATIONS OUTSIDE
OF THE HIGHEST ELEVATIONS. TEMPERATURES ARE LIKELY TO RISE WELL INTO
30S AND 40S FAHRENHEIT AS FAR NORTH AS THE ALASKA RANGE. STRONG WINDS
ALONG TERRAIN GAPS SUCH AS TURNAGAIN ARM AS WELL AS HIGHER ELEVATIONS
OF SOUTHERN ALASKA ARE ALSO POSSIBLE.
THE GREATEST IMPACTS MID TO LATE WEEK APPEAR TO BE RELATED TO
RAPID SNOWMELT POTENTIAL...RAPID RUN-OFF AND PONDING OF WATER ON TOP
OF ICE FROM RAINFALL. THESE IMPACTS COULD CREATE CONSIDERABLE
DISRUPTIONS TO OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES AND TRAVEL ACROSS MUCH OF THE
REGION. BY SATURDAY NIGHT AND SUNDAY...TEMPERATURES LOOK TO DROP
BELOW FREEZING FOR MOST LOCATIONS WITH A RETURN OF MORE SEASONABLE
INTERESTS ACROSS ALL OF SOUTHERN ALASKA SHOULD REMAIN APPRISED OF THE
LATEST FORECASTS AND BE PREPARED FOR THIS SIGNIFICANT CHANGE IN THE
ALONG WITH YOUR FAVORITE MEDIA SOURCE...WEATHER INFORMATION CAN BE
OBTAINED BY VISITING WEATHER.GOV/ANCHORAGE.
Since I started this blog I’ve had a number of people ask what my place is like; in some cases I suspect they think I live in an igloo or similar! With this in mind I thought I’d share some images of my place:
This is the front of my place taken on Christmas Eve while walking the dogs
My driveway runs from East Barge Drive to Question Lake Circle; this is a view of my place from the latter road
This is the main room in my place and is located on the first floor
This is my kitchen taken from the dining area
One of my current favorite places in Talkeetna! This is the main studio in the KTNA building and is really a view of the desk area. To the lower right you see one of the two manual turntables and underneath them is another cabinet of equipment. Moving further to the left there’s an ancient cart machine with two single play CD player beneath it and then a control panel for auxiliary inputs like iPods, MP3 players and similar; finally the telephone is beneath all that stuff. Further left is the Mac which handles a myriad of duties including the NWS weather reports, the sound bites that identify underwriters, sound clips of show promos and access to the KTNA.org website. On the desk beneath the Mac is the sound board which controls what inputs are going to which outputs along with which pots are active and the gain on each pot; the board is fully programmable and along with the Mac forms the backbone of the newscasts. A bit further to the left you can see the digital temp readout for the station’s exterior thermometer (silver square) and then two of the three studio microphones; the main mic is the pink one while the other two are used with in-studio guests. All in all I’m still learning to use the gear and make regular and often painful mistakes but I’m finding I really do enjoy the work. Just another one of those ‘stretches’ I seem to be enamored of since retiring..! This is especially true as I had no experience with anything like this previously and as a child I stuttered to the point I had speech therapy and hence harbored an all consuming fear of speaking to unknown people and especially in front of groups of people.
Yesterday provided both weather conditions (overcast) and snow functionality (density and flake parameters) to yield that beautiful blue hue when looking into holes in the accumulated snow. This shows why its best to view glaciers in overcast conditions as the blue coloring is not visible in direct sunlight. In the above image look into the footprint hole made by one of my dogs and you can observe that almost other-worldly blue color.
As we are just starting the second day of a new year I find it’s no surprise I’m reflecting back upon the past year and without question the focus of my reflections have been my successful relocation to south central Alaska and subsequent efforts at settling in. I have already experienced my first Winter Solstice in ‘The Great Land’ as well as my first Christmas and New Years; I’ve tasted -24 F air temps on numerous occasions and expect to experience temps below -30 F before the winter is over. I continue to accumulate important lessons day in and day out as I learn to not just survive but to thrive in my new home. Talkeetna is perfect for me; the locals are a quirky mix of lifestyles, beliefs and economic statures but eminently tolerant of other viewpoints and share a deep belief in the importance of humor. I mean where else can you find a town of 700+ year round residents that has a cat for a mayor..? Mr Stubbs has held this position for at 16 years and does actually attend town meetings. These people are as genuine as the day (or night depending upon the season…) is long and always ready to be of assistance if needed. I’ve written much regarding the environmental conditions; I do love the cold and snow and look forward to a lot more of both before ‘the break up’ which is Alaskan for ‘spring’.
But I thought it might be some fun to look at some key learnings I’ve developed over the past four plus months; things that really reflect living in rural south central Alaska. So it’s from this perspective I look back on my first five months of living at Mile 7.1 of the Spur:
- As we’re now into winter I think some lessons learned regarding Talkeetna winters are in order. Although I did have respect for the cold up here I also had bad habits from the lower 48 which are quickly being erased sometimes rather painfully. In SE Michigan it was no big deal to run out to the store in a snowfall event wearing minimal outdoor gear and sometimes wearing only tennis shoes. Hah, such times are now history for me as to run to the store nowadays means wearing full winter gear including insulated boots and insuring I have my ‘survival kit’ in the cargo portion of the Escape as well. While sliding off the road in Michigan could be an inconvenience up here it could be a death sentence based upon your location and your level of preparedness. Even when just venturing out to start the car so it can defrost and be ready to go I wear stout outdoor clothing and especially gloves. I learned the hard way that just a minute of two of scraping windows with the ice scraper and bare hands when its -17 F leads to very painful hands!!
- When it does snow if I’m not planning to go anywhere for a few days I’ll leave the car covered with snow. This prevents the cold overnight temps from building up a thick layer of ice on the glass surfaces due to radiational cooling. Of course this means when I do plan to use the car I need a bit more time to broom off the snow but it’s much easier than fighting to clear ice when it -15 F or colder.
- Once it gets below -15 F outside and stays that way for at least a day or more any metal protruding into the house which is tied to metal on the exterior of the house will begin to form layers of frost. I keep my place in the 58 F to 61 F temperature range but this has no effect it stopping the slow but relentless build up of frost layers on exterior door hinges, door latches and window cranks. The robustness of the frost build up is proportional to the temperature but more importantly to the duration of time the temperature has been below -15 F.
- How cold it feels outdoors is of course related to the temperature but it also seems influenced by the amount of time its been cold outdoors. I’m not sure why this is but I have experienced it numerous times now; -20 F will feel quite cool when I let the dogs out first thing in the morning after we’ve seen temps around 0 F. But the third morning its -20 F and I do the same it feels much colder just as based on the aforementioned there’s much more frost on interior metal objects linked to exterior surfaces. Just spending ten minutes outside after its never risen above -12 F for 48 or more hours feels much colder than the first morning it’s dropped to -18 F.
- I can easily handle -22 F air temps when properly dressed as long as there’s no wind. However, add just a 2 to 4 mph breeze to an air temp of -17 F and I’d better have all exposed flesh covered or I’m going to have a problem within just a few minutes.
- Layering is THE way to deal with Alaskan cold! I’ve been fine at any of the low temps I’ve experienced thus far wearing only a wind proof/rain resistant synthetic rain parka as my exterior layer; underneath this I’m wearing heavy sweat pants, thick Carhartt wool/synthetic mix socks, a long sleeve tee-shirt and a fleece vest along with poly pro glove liners, gloves and insulated boots. I can always add thermal underwear when it gets really cold and if I do start to get too warm from exercise its always possible to modify clothing openings or even shed a layer.
- The one windshield ‘star’ on the passenger side – courtesy of a maintenance truck in Saskatchewan – finally grew a low-level but almost windshield length crack. It was -18 F and I was rushing to get into KTNA for a substitute newscast so I had the defroster set at 80 F and the fan to max. The Spur was not in great shape with many rough icy patches and as I navigated one I saw a crack grow from the center of the star and slowly grow across the lower quarter of the windshield towards the driver’s side. Apparently a combination of the extreme temp differences inside to outside and the uneven motion of the vehicle was too much for the already damaged glass. After speaking with Holly I learned its best to just deal with the crack until fall and then have it replaced; most windshield chips and ‘stars’ occur during the summer months with the increased traffic and construction work. Therefore it does make sense to hold off on replacing the windshield until after construction season; Holly suggested late September.
- Moving ahead with more ‘generic’ learnings – Forget about addresses to indicate where you live; this place may be 15158 East Barge Drive, Talkeetna, AK but to the locals its transitioning from ‘Dan & Erica Valentine’s place’ to ‘that place owned by the big bald guy with the two big dogs’. Hey, it works for me! No one gives you a number address once you’re out of the town itself; you tell folks you live ‘just past the curve on Joan Street’ or ‘at the top of the hill on East Barge Drive’ and that’s good enough. I know from experience it does make it hell for the delivery people unless they have a long duration experience of finding residential locations in this area.
- I learned last fall I will not be able to wear shorts and short-sleeved tee shirts when the spring finally arrives; at least not once the biting insects make their appearance. I remember wondering during my first few trips up here why the locals always wore long sleeves and long pants; now I know! Wearing these coupled with your insect repellent of choice – I have four ‘natural’ formulations I’ll be trying come insect season but to this point rubbing a dryer sheet on my clothing worked best last year – at least gives you a chance to forgo losing a pint of blood every time you spend more than ten minutes outdoors.
- There’s a rhythm to rural life that one slowly discovers with the passage of time and is indelibly linked to one’s one lifestyle. At this point mine is anchored around my newscasts at KTNA and the need to replenish my grocery situation once every three to four weeks. The latter grows out of the fact Talkeetna lacks any amount or variety of goods and services; one of its biggest improvements came a few years back when Cubby’s Market opened at the ‘Y’ (Talkeetna talk for the junction of the Spur and Parks Highway) . While it’s barely larger than most convenience stores in the lower 48 it does provide important grocery items rather than just junk food. In fact, I’m told people drive all the way from Anchorage to buy their meat as it is truly delicious and handled with care. This is important because the next true grocery stores (Fred Meyer, Carrs) are 60+ miles to the south in Wasilla. As such one wouldn’t want to be making this 120+ mile round trip more than once a month if possible and that’s really true come winter when the Parks Highway can be a real mess of ice and snow.
- My newscasts anchor the times I visit the Talkeetna PO which is just up the Spur from the station’s building on Second Street; although my drive in is just a bit over seven miles its much more convenient to leave for the station a bit earlier so I can stop by the PO, check for mail and packages and then proceed on into the station.
- My two canine pals are pushing me to get into better shape through regular walking; they hunger for that daily opportunity to head out regardless of the weather and explore the area around their new home. The longer we take on these walks the more they expect; when I first started walking with them I could barely handle 30 minutes because I was a ‘flat-lander’ and nothing is flat up here. Before the real cold came on I was up to 70 to 80 minutes of continual walking and even making at least three trips up and down Bonanza Hill (aka ‘Exercise Hill’ to the locals) during any given week. I need this and more; I’ve been forced to shorten the duration of our walks when the temps are in single digits or cooler because Qanuk’s pads do not handle the real cold well at all. I’ve ordered an insulated set of dog booties for him; I see the dog teams that mush this area use them and that’s a good enough recco for me.
- Without question the extended darkness has had no observable effect upon my perspectives or outlooks; in fact I can see no issues whatsoever with the longer nights. I also suspect this will not be the case with the June through August period when it’s almost continually light; thank goodness for light blocking drapes!
- Although we are just 12 days since the Winter Solstice I can already see the beginnings of the dawn occurring a few minutes sooner than back around the solstice. Yes, one has to be looking for the shift as well as be a ‘sky watcher’ but it is indeed already evident.
These are just a few of the myriad of learnings I’ve embraced in my first five months of living in rural south central Alaska; I know I have many, many more coming my way. For whatever reason I actually enjoy the prospect of continued learning as I’m finding the whole rural lifestyle is something that at this point in my life is indeed very near and dear to my heart. I’m finally beginning to feel like an Alaskan in general and a Talkeetna ‘local’ in particular. I look back on the decades spent living in the urban lower 48 and wonder how I managed to do so as now so very much of that lifestyle seems slightly insane. Why would I live someplace with terrible noise pollution which daily intrudes into even a closed up house, why would I live someplace where traffic and congestion can make a five-mile drive require twenty minutes, why would I live someplace with dirty air and light pollution so severe one can see just a handful of stars even on a clear night, why would I live someplace where ‘wildlife’ means squirrels, sparrows and raccoons and why would I life someplace where the people are introverted and treat strangers with initial distrust??? No, I think I’ll take rural south central Alaska, thank you very much..!