Yet another milestone in my Alaskan adventure occurred this past Monday afternoon when the faint albeit unmistakable sound of distant thunder reverberated through the boreal forest. This is the first time I’ve heard thunder in my new home and it was most welcome! If there’s one thing I really miss from my time in the lower 48 its the seasonal presence of thunderstorms in general and severe thunderstorms in particular. As a very young child I remember being terrified of both lightning and thunder; I actually dreaded the steamy hot July and August evenings in SE Michigan because such weather often brought on thunderstorms. I’m forever grateful to my father for finally taking me out on the family home’s back porch as a thunderstorm approached and explaining just what was happening; we talked about the genesis of the storm, the lightning being the precursor to thunder and he taught me to estimate the distance to a storm by counting the seconds between a lightning flash and its resultant thunder. I never again feared thunderstorms and, indeed, grew to absolutely love the phenomena to the point I regularly walked in such storms. In hindsight probably not the wisest thing to do but I loved feeling the energy and power of the storm all around me. One time I remember actually feeling a weak electrical shock from a close by strike; I never wear shoes when I walk in such storms as they just become saturated and dead weight. And on a couple of occasions I’ve smelled ozone from a very close by strike; these events always included that incredible ‘flash-boom’ effect of a truly close lightning strike in which the flash and resultant boom are virtually simultaneous.
Anyway, the thunderstorms I’ve seen up here – mostly on radar or satellite – are pale comparisons to the gully washers of the SE or the incredible towering cumulonimbus of the plains storms but at least they are around. Indeed, there is now little call for the weather spotter training I cultivated while living in the lower 48. I still do participate in CoCoRaHS (Community Collaborative Rain, Hail & Snow reporting network) and I have sent in reports of extreme weather to the Anchorage NWS office during a winter storm but I do not expect to do as much in these areas as I did while living in the lower 48. Yet there’s no shortage of fascinating meteorology up here and I’m in seventh heaven re-learning so much of what I took for granted as ‘immutable knowledge’ regarding the weather. Weather in the higher latitudes is quite different from that found in the middle latitudes so this a fertile area for learning’s; it’s just a great coincidence that I’m fascinated by meteorology in general.
Another area of great interest to me, and one of which I know little but am working to improve, is that of geology and the physics of earthquakes. Prior to relocating to Alaska I had minimal experience with earthquakes and found them to be curiosities which might occur every decade or so. This changed a bit while I was employed with The Clorox Company as its headquarters is in Oakland with its technical center located just a bit further east in Pleasanton; as such I did experience more tremblors while visiting the west coast. Even so noticeable shifts in the earth were still just a curiosity. With my relocation to south central Alaska the frequency to which I would experience tremblors has changed dramatically as I’ve felt three very pronounced seismic events since moving up here and that’s been just 10 months. This past Monday afternoon a magnitude 7.9 event occurred in the Aleutian Island chain which prompted a short-lived tsunami warning; no damage was reported. While we did not feel anything up here the folks in Anchorage could feel just a bit of that event. I knew prior to moving up here Alaska was the most seismically active of the fifty states but I had no idea just how active it is; if you’d like to get some perspective visit this website: http://www.aeic.alaska.edu/recent/macsub/index.html. It’s run by UAF (University of Alaska Fairbanks) and is the clearinghouse for information on Alaskan seismic activity. Indeed, a quick perusal of the current data shows 79 events recorded for Wednesday, June 25th as of 12:18 AKDT. I’ve taken the liberty of pasting a copy of the activity map for June 25th at the end of this piece; it was copied as of 12:32 AKDT. Granted, most are very small as in the magnitude 1 to 2 range but this still illustrates Alaska can truly be ‘seismically active’. This is the only place I’ve heard sound associated with seismic activity; back in the winter a magnitude 5.9 event was accompanied by two very loud ‘booms’ which actually awakened my soundly sleeping Alaskan Malamute (Anana).
I guess I could say there’s rarely a dull moment in this amazing state I now call home and I like it this way. We’re looking at the potential for some heavy rain across the next 12 to 18 hours; we need moisture so it is welcome although it will put a damper on riding my bicycle. But in true Alaskan fashion I’ll just substitute an extended walk in the rain with the dogs; they don’t mind the rain although they won’t like having to remain in the mud room for a few hours after we return so they can dry off and I can take a couple of shots at removing a bit of that glacial silt and dirt that is ubiquitous to this area. These kinds of adjustments are becoming almost routine and I like this realization as it means I am definitely becoming an Alaskan!