Earthquakes & Snow…

Yep, its been a really interesting previous 24 hours in the finest Alaskan tradition.  I found it to be a great stimulus especially as with all the mild, sunny conditions and lack of any real weather extremes across the past few months things were becoming rather ‘staid’.  The fun started early Tuesday morning with light snow; the snow continued across Tuesday, Tuesday night and right along into Wednesday.  When it finally tapered off around 16:30 AKST here at Mile 7.1 of the Spur I measured a total accumulation of 14.8″ which makes this event the largest snowfall this winter.  Of course, given the wimpy winter to date it really didn’t take much to make headlines with respect to snowfall.  As of 07:00 Wednesday morning I measured 12.5″ of snow with a SWE of just 0.57″ water so the snow is indeed typically light and fluffy.  NWS blew their forecast as even at noon on Tuesday they were calling for maybe an inch of snow for the entire day; by that time I was seeing 3.5″ and the snow was continuing.  This was another ‘windless’ storm so all the trees, bushes and exterior surfaces have a thick coating of fluffy white snow:

My back yard around 11:00 AKST on March 5, 2014

My back yard around 11:00 AKST on March 5, 2014

With this latest visit by winter we once again have in excess of two feet of snow pack although the bottom 11″ is mainly the icy remains of the earlier snow pack that melted in the record-setting warm January and was lashed by rain and freezing rain during that same month.  Even with this snow event we are well below normal snow fall for the winter of 2013-2014 but everyone is most pleased to see the snow once again.  Anana and Qanuk were a bit surprised by the snow depth when I let them outside this morning; the had largely tamped down the previous snow and ice and therefore had established some definite paths in the back yard.  To suddenly find the snow up to their bellies once again was a shock but they quickly took advantage of the powder and commenced playing tag.  I think they were just pleased to see more snow but then so was the entire local population.

Yesterday evening I had settled into my rocking chair with my Kindle Fire HD reading a great book (“The Wolf In The Parlor”) while listening to some soft fusion jazz; from time to time I glanced up to watch the snow continuing to fall.  Right about 18:13 there was a very loud ‘BOOM!‘ which caused everything to rattle followed by a second ‘BOOM!‘ a few seconds later.  Before the second one my German Shepherd (Qanuk) was running down the stairs from the upper floor; he ended up cowering alongside my chair.  Even Anana, my Alaskan Malamute who was sound asleep at the foot of the stairs, raised her head and looked around.  Understand that Anana is a very sound sleeper and rarely can be awakened by any noise unless it’s the sound of the refrigerator door being opened; for her to jerk awake confirmed my immediate impression that something very loud had just occurred.  My first thought was an explosion of some kind but then I wondered if a large piece of the accumulating snow had slipped off the roof.  I learned during the extremely warm January that snow/ice falling from the roof can create loud ‘Blam’s’ that do shake the house.  I looked out all the windows but saw only undisturbed snow so I pulled on my ‘deep snow’ boots and proceeded to walk the perimeter of the house.  Outside it was silent like usual and the snow on the ground was completely undisturbed.  I finally decided it must have been an earthquake albeit an unusual one.  I’ve experienced a number of earthquakes in the lower 48 but this one was unlike any earthquake I’d ever experienced as it made a definite noise while all the other’s I’d experienced previously did not; in fact they were silent – except for stuff rattling and maybe falling over – and I hadn’t felt the floor tremble or ‘ripple’ as I had during previous events.  I walked back inside and went on-line with UAF (University of Alaska Fairbanks); sure enough a magnitude 4.4 earthquake was recorded at 18:13 AKST centered 27 miles SSE of Talkeetna at a depth of 22 miles.  I’ve experienced a few  earthquakes while working for The Clorox Company whose main office is located in the Bay area of California; generally no one even batted an eye unless it was at least a 5.5 or larger.  I also experienced a 4.8 quake generated from the New Madrid fault line which runs up the Mississippi River basin around St. Louis.  That was back in ’81 and I was living in Greenville (IL) which was 70 miles ENE or St. Louis; the event occurred in the wee hours of the morning.  I was sleeping on a water-bed and suddenly I awoke to hear stuff rattling and then felt ‘Magic Fingers’ in the water-bed.  While I’m hardly a veteran regarding earthquakes I’m no novice either; this is why I was quite surprised by yesterday evening’s event.  I did note that while KTNA gave extensive morning news coverage to the snow not a word was mentioned regarding the earthquake so I guess it wasn’t a big deal.  I knew Alaska is the most seismically active of the 50 states and I also knew the Palmer-Wasilla area gets regular quakes so I wasn’t surprised except by the noise.  I’ve never heard a ‘BOOM!‘ with a previous earthquake let alone two of them…

This afternoon I stopped by the KTNA studio after making the mail run into Talkeetna and spoke to a pair of folks who live around me; one didn’t notice the quake at all while the other definitely felt it and had the same recollection of the event as my own.  I learned that the earthquakes up here often produce loud sounds in conjunction with the seismic activity.  I also had it confirmed that a 4.4 is not a big deal; I guess they occur on an almost regular basis and most of the locals hardly notice them.  I was told that 60 miles to the south in the Palmer-Wasilla area it’s even more common and the events are often larger.  As stated earlier I knew Alaska was the most seismically active of the 50 states and even knew of the Denali fault line that runs right through this area but I was still surprised by the noise from the event and the fact that a 4.4 shook my house so ‘substantially’.  Across the day I continued to find small items that had been knocked around from the earth’s perturbations.  Once more I’m in awe of the amazing display of natural forces that just seems to be an everyday part of the Alaskan environment.  Things are just a bit different up here in so many ways; just as 12+ inches of snow doesn’t shut down the local schools a magnitude 4.4 tremblor is no big deal.  Heck, when the NWS did get their act together they issued a ‘Winter Weather Advisory’ for a snow event with the forecast total accumulation of 10″ to 20″ stating such an advisory meant only that travel might be ‘negatively impacted’.  No wonder I just love living up here..!!!

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