At the risk of being repetitive…

…where in Heaven’s Name is winter?!?!?  I suppose I should be accurate and ask ‘where is winter in south central Alaska’ although a majority of the state has seen a fairly mild winter to this point.  Apparently northern reaches of the state are actually seeing more typical weather of late; my buddy in Livengood, Alaska (roughly 80 miles NW of Fairbanks) recently spoke of air temps in the negative numbers along with many inches of snow.  I see tomorrow’s high is just -1 F and NWS forecasting 3” to 6” of snow across Tuesday (12/02) night into Wednesday morning.  I’d gladly take such a forecast and be happy even though we should be seeing at least 18” of snow pack by this point.  We did get snow Saturday (11/29); it snowed continually albeit lightly for more than 15 hours yet in my measurements this morning I saw a meager 2.1” of new snow with a ‘snow pack’ of just 2.6” of snow.  I remain amazed I could see 15 contiguous hours of even light snow and still accumulate barely 2” of snow pack…

Here’s a snipped copy of my morning report to CoCoRaHS (Community Collaborative Rain, Hail & Snow):

113014 CoCoRaHS

This report looks much more like those I generated while living in SW Ohio or even SE Michigan when we were lucky to even see accumulating snow during many winters.  I’m beginning to believe I somehow redirect winter weather away from where ever I choose to live!  This sounds like nonsense but you must realize for the four winters I lived in SE Michigan (2009 through 2013) there was almost no snow; the final winter (2012-2013) we totaled just 9” of snow all winter and never saw a temp below 0 F.  I move out in July of 2013 and the next winter sets an all-time record for snowfall at Detroit’s Metro airport and also sets numerous low temperature records during the season.  Meanwhile, Talkeetna has its warmest winter on record as does most of Alaska.  And this year is looking much the same.

I delved back into my weather data collected by my Davis Vantage Pro 2 wireless weather station across the period from November 1, 2013 through February 28, 2014.  I’ve snipped out the monthly synopsis for each month; with the exception of November it’s easy to see it truly was extremely warm up here:





Unbelievable that Talkeetna’s average temp for January 2014 was 25.8 F and its low was just 0.6 F!!!  December and January are the two coldest months up here but you wouldn’t have known that from the above data.  And it appears we’re heading for another such ‘winter that wasn’t’ this year.

Part of the reason I moved to Alaska was to experience five plus months of real winter with feet of snow pack and days of temps never reaching 0 F and dropping into the minus twenties or even minus thirties.  At this juncture to say I’ve been disappointed would be a bit like calling Denali ‘a big hill’!  I realize that technically winter has yet to begin although meteorological winter does start December 1st and runs through March 1st so for all intent and purpose we are now in the winter season.

I certainly hope we see a true shift in our winter back to the more normal temps and snowfall for this area but to this point it doesn’t look good.  If this continues I may have to do the unthinkable and move to Fairbanks or points north just to see an Alaskan winter.  After the grueling move up here from SE Michigan I swore I would never move again yet if I cannot find ‘winter’ here I may just have to swallow that promise and look north.  Alaskans from the further north reaches joking refer to this area as ‘the banana belt’; sadly to this point that moniker is all too accurate!

To See Light One Must First Be Receptive To Light!

This favorite aphorism of mine has all the hallmarks of a stalwart maxim: it is short in length, composed of simple words and, at first blush, appears to be obvious.  But the power contained in truly understanding and practicing its meaning is virtually unlimited.  I’d been aware of this truism for decades but only in the last five years or so did I finally come to understand its significance and begin to practice its wisdom.  While often difficult to live, the rewards I’ve reaped far overshadow my struggles to remain receptive.

From another perspective this adage might be reworked as; ‘attitude is everything’.  And, indeed, it is so because to be ‘available’ to new or different stimuli one must first be receptive to said ‘new or different stimuli’ and this involves having an open mind.  In order to truly embrace the concept of having an open mind willing to assess new stimuli and ideas in as unbiased a means as possible one must engender the attitude that anything ‘new’ or ‘different’ is ultimately of benefit.  Sure, many experiences, ideas or stimuli may eventually prove to be negative and even harmful but if one can learn from these experiences the net is a positive outcome assuming one believes learning is a positive experience.  Leaving my car parked under the eaves of my steep Alaskan home’s roof was a bad idea as when snow and ice break loose they come thundering down and smash into the vehicle but by experiencing this I now know to stay away from these zones when outside during the spring thaw!  As such maintaining a positive attitude helps to fuel the understanding that since ‘attitude is everything’ if one can embrace and truly face life with a positive attitude one will be receptive to so many ‘new’ ideas, thoughts and understandings.

Key to practicing this philosophy is truly ‘living’ the experience; one can understand these words on an intellectual basis yet still fail to reap the wealth that comes from embracing their meaning.  There is a less than obvious requirement to this process; it involves the willingness to ‘let one’s self go’ such that we can experience any new ideas, concepts or understandings without influencing the process with preconceptions or biases.  This is another extremely difficult piece of the puzzle because it is human nature to be subjective and at the elemental level we are aware of our world through our experiences and learnings which are based upon reactions to stimuli yielding results of positive, neutral or negative value. The valuing of our experiences often leads to imbuing us with the belief we have control over most situations when, in fact, the opposite is true.  Over time we perceive we can control situations and we attempt to do so with the aim being to generate a positive outcome.  We succeed sometimes and fail in others but we grow the belief we have some control and since we favor ‘positive’ outcomes we continue to try to affect these results.  By doing so we are running counter to the need to keep an open mind because we now believe we know what we favor, what will work best for us and what we will like.

Going this route inadvertently reinforces the construction of mental barriers to being open to new things; we reinforce this with our ongoing ‘internal dialog’ which we use to rationalize this behavior.  Prior to relocating to Talkeetna I had a fear of speaking in front of people so I ‘knew’ I wouldn’t enjoy or be successful as an on-air newscaster and music show host.  I’d built a wall around the idea of doing live radio and fortified its foundation with memories of awkward presentations during my corporate years based on a fear of stuttering.  Yet when I opened my mind to the possibility of actually doing live broadcasting and stretched my own self-imposed envelope I discovered I truly enjoyed volunteering in this capacity.  In this sense I was a prisoner of my own preconceptions which were entirely inaccurate even if based upon experience and memories.

I definitely do not think of myself as a person anyone would want to emulate and I have struggled mightily against a surfeit of shortcomings with varying degrees of success and many outright failures but finally, in my early 60’s, I have come to truly embrace the wisdom of that simple yet so powerful precept:

‘To See Light One Must First Be Receptive To Light…’

Frost In Lieu Of Snow?

As this late fall season marches inexorably towards the Winter Solstice I’ve already remarked about the dearth of snow. October was around 30% of normal precipitation and thus far in November we’ve seen just 0.15” of precipitation and most of that was rain. The normal November precipitation in Talkeetna is 1.63” and I’d wager that’s the water equivalent from mostly snow fall. Even across the past ten days our air temp has flirted with the freezing mark and actually hit 39.1 F on November 12th! This by itself is most unusual but I also noticed that the Florence, Kentucky area where a very good friend of mine lives with his wonderful family is expected to get three to five inches of snow across today. Florence is just a bit south of Cincinnati which does mean it is a ways south yet they will soon see three to five inches more snow than Talkeetna, Alaska has experienced this winter..?!? That is absurd!

One rather unusual condition I’ve seen during this period is the formation of heavy frost which, if the air temp remains below freezing, does not melt across the day and accumulates much like snow under these conditions. Living in Michigan I was no stranger to frost but it always melted off during the day so seeing frost not just remain but accumulate across a number of days is a bit unusual. It is easy to understand how this occurs given the outdoor humidity remains at 90% plus across most of the day so if the air temp remains below freezing the moisture in the air is going to freeze upon objects like trees, houses, brush and similar. This very high and prolonged humidity is a function of living within a large boreal forest; this cuts air flow down to almost nothing and the rather damp nature of the forest contributes to the airborne moisture. Indeed, in living up here for fifteen months now the maximum wind gust my anemometer has recorded was 18 mph. It is approximately 25 feet off the ground but still well surrounded by the taller birch and spruce trees. One would need to put it somewhere between 35 and 50 feet to really get an accurate reading. It is not uncommon to see the tops of the trees really swaying in the wind while at ground level there’s just the slightest of breezes.

This was taken from the second floor master bedroom and the white is frost, not snow.  The flimsy orange barricade actually does keep the dogs within the back yard

This was taken from the second floor master bedroom and the white is frost, not snow. The flimsy orange barricade actually does keep the dogs within the back yard

The frost is capable of creating some interesting and often beautiful formations especially when struck by the sun. I’ve seen a field of diamonds which was really just the local muskeg being illuminated by direct sunlight which found its way through the trees. When using magnification the incredible complexity of the frost crystals can be mesmerizing. But I must admit as interesting and gorgeous as the situation can be it’s a far cry from a foot of fresh white snow! Here’s hoping we eventually see winter arrive and with it the much missed snow…

A single screw can grow a lot of frost over time!

A single screw can grow a lot of frost over time!

Blue plastic string can grow frost quite nicely!

Blue plastic string can grow frost quite nicely!

A Dearth of Snow…

What a difference a year can make at least in terms of weather conditions! Just one year ago today light snow started falling in the early afternoon and continued to build in intensity across the remainder of November 9th and continued snowing moderately right into the early afternoon of the 10th. When the snow fall finally ceased the Talkeetna area saw anywhere from 11” of snow up to 14” with 12” being the average accumulation. This turned out to be the single largest snow event of what is now the history making ‘winter that wasn’t’ of 2013 – 2014. Right up through the first week in November we’d seen well above normal air temps and record-setting precipitation but all in the form of rain except on brief period of snow showers in late October. The mosquitoes actually hung on through all of October and were still biting in early November. What a change from this year when the little blood suckers all but disappeared in middle September but then we saw slightly below normal rain for September and only 30% of the normal 2.90” of precipitation in October. In addition our air temps were slightly below normal for all of September and even more so across October.  While we did see some snow and cold across November and into middle December both January and February set all time records for warmth and we ended up at just 40% of typical snow fall for the season.

So heaven knows it has been plenty cold enough to snow but we’ve just lacked the moisture to this point. And sadly it appears this dry trend is continuing into November. Across the last three weeks we’ve seen many single digit morning lows which is more typical of December and February but the air remains very dry. As such it’s a safe bet to say we will not see a major snow event today or at any time this week. Most of the locals are literally chomping at the bit to see accumulating snow and I’m right there with them! Since early October I’ve seen more and more dog teams out and about pulling ATVs; it’s a safe bet they’d much prefer to be hauling a sled through a ‘white world’. But Mother Nature is just not cooperating with our wishes, at least to this point. After the disappointment of last ‘winter’ I am so hoping to experience a true Alaskan winter this year replete with feet of accumulated snow, temps dropping into the -20 F to -30 F range and some real winter storms. I was told last year that even the aforementioned 12”+ snow fall in early November was just a small snow event and storms producing half again as much snow were not uncommon. I would truly love to see a real storm dump two feet or more across a day or two; that’s more like what I envisioned when I moved up here.

As those of you who follow this blog are aware I love meteorology and have a special love of cold and snow. I knew prior to my relocation I would be giving up almost all my beloved thunderstorms but I was hoping extreme snow and cold would help make up for this loss. Last summer I believe I heard thunder maybe five times and saw lightning once far away against the Talkeetna Mountains; this is a far cry from what I was used to experiencing living in places like SE Michigan, SW Ohio and south central Wisconsin. It is not lost on me that the largest single snow event I experienced occurred in the early 1980’s in – of all places – Greenville, Illinois which is 70 miles ENE of St. Louis. In early February a freak storm dropped two inches of rain before contacting cold air from the plains which switched the precipitation over to snow and in just 16 hours it accumulated 28”! This shut down St. Louis for three days and made national headlines. It just seems odd for someone who has lived in so many much more northerly locations across so many decades.

For now I remain just hopeful that we will eventually see moisture intermingle with our currently cool air and produce snow. I also hope and pray last ‘winter’ was truly the anomaly it was made out to be and we will see a more normal Alaskan winter for the 2014 – 2015 season. Outside it is growing darker as we pick up a southeasterly flow pulling up some moisture from the Pacific Ocean but sadly if we even see any snow today it will be mainly in the form of more snow showers. In the end it’s all up to Mother Nature and she’s already shown me she can be as fickle as the day is long. But I remain hopeful she will slide back into her ‘old ways’ and provide this area with a real Talkeetna winter…

The most snow we've seen this season is pathetically small, at least to this point..!

The most snow we’ve seen this season is pathetically small, at least to this point..!