Those of you following this blog will recognize my continued fascination with meteorology in general and Alaskan weather in particular. This is especially true when focusing on winter weather which, since I relocated to Talkeetna in August of 2013, has been rather mild to say the least. Thus far even though the ‘official’ start of winter is still five weeks out we’re finally seeing some very Alaskan winter weather. In early November we saw snow across a couple of days accumulate to around 10” (25.4 cm). This was followed by a week of extremely cold temps featuring a roughly 84 hour period during which we never reached 0°F (-17.8°C) and saw a couple days of -17.2°F (-27.3°C) low temps and one day when we bottomed out at -20.3°F (-29.1°C). The recent cold snap was broken by a series of storms coming across the Bering Sea from Russia the largest of which dumped around 15” (38.1 cm) across an 18 hour period. Since then we’ve seen an additional 7” (17.8 cm) leaving us with, after accounting for settling, a current snow pack of 26.5” (67.3 cm).
I have reveled in the cold and snow and do indeed hope it is the harbinger of my first ‘real’ Alaskan winter. During the past 27 months I’ve been settling into my Talkeetna lifestyle I’ve experienced many learnings and with each one I’ve become better prepared to handle some of the extreme weather conditions which can and do befall this magnificent state. By far the most extreme conditions occur in winter so the focus of my preparations have been skewed to these expected conditions. I added a new wood burning stove to my place last month and it did come in handy during the recent cold snap. But I also ended up with a cord of unseasoned birch, sold to me as ‘seasoned’, so my use of said stove has been limited to the wood my friends have shared with me. However, I now know what to look for regarding seasoned birch so the experience was not a complete loss. In addition I will be able to continue splitting, stacking and ‘tarping’ this wood with an eye to using it next winter.
My wardrobe has also increased slightly with the addition of a pair of good quality gaiters which are almost a necessity if one is to try to wade two plus feet of snow. I also have a pair of heavily padded mittens for use when the air temp drops below -10°F (-23.3°C). My buddy Sarge has fixed me up with a first rate winch system which allows me to mount the winch on either front or back trailer hitches; in addition the winch can pivot to provide an optimal angle for pulling my Escape out of a snowy trap. With the current snow pack the time is ideal for trying out my snowshoes; I intend to see just how ungainly and awkward they are today. I’ve never been one to sit around during winter feeling cooped up by the weather because I truly do enjoy the cold and snow.
At this point I feel very much ready to face the Alaskan winter regardless of its severity but at the same time I have immense respect for the season and understand one can quickly find one’s self in a life or death situation. My Escape is outfitted with moose lights (‘driving lights’ in the lower 48), the aforementioned winch system, my winter survival kit – extra gloves, sweatshirt, food, candles, space blanket, knife, 100’ (30.9 meters) of para-cord, folding shovel and similar – as well as a snow shovel and towing straps. Regardless, I have learned that I never venture out even if I just plan to make a quick run to the ‘Y’ or into the village without being dressed for the conditions and wearing boots capable of handling a walk in the snow should something happen to the Escape. Gone are the days in the lower 48 when I might dash out in winter wearing just a windbreaker and tennis shoes!
With a bit of luck perhaps I will finally be able to experience a real Alaskan winter; for me this would entail seeing a 36” to 60” (0.91 meters to 1.5 meters) snow pack and experiencing at least one morning low in the -30°F to -40°F (-34.4°C to -40°C) range. Time will tell and if I’ve learned one thing about Alaskan weather it will be wildly variable and can be extremely pernicious…