As I prepare for my next great adventure to pick up my R-pod from a rural farm in Three Forks, Montana I thought perhaps I should finish clearing out some of more memorable images from my Alaskan life and visits. Included in this collage is an image taken on The Alaska Highway in British Columbia during my relocation trip from SE Michigan to Talkeetna. I mention it only because technically it isn’t Alaskan weather or Alaskan skies but it was tied to moving up here. I hope to be able to share some amazing images from the majestic provinces of Alberta, British Columbia and The Yukon Territories as well as from Montana and, of course, Alaska. Here’s to the wonder and majesty of Nature regardless of its location!
A number of readers of this blog have commented on the images I sometimes include with a posting and quite a number of folks have expressed real amazement at some of the collages I’ve blogged. A recent reader shared some thoughts with me; from these grew the idea of creating this piece which is really a blog regarding Alaskan skies and weather scenes. This was very difficult to create simply because I have so many beautiful images of The Last Frontier’s skies and unusual/extreme weather. I believe my initial perusal left me with almost sixty images; from these I managed to winnow it down to ‘just’ thirty six and from there down to the following 18 images. I will most likely do another such posting down the road and include the remainder of the final 36 images which just failed to make the cut. So, for your enjoyment, I offer you eighteen images of ‘Alaskan Skies & Weather’…
In what was the swiftest transition from winter to spring I’ve yet witnessed across my four winters in ‘The Great Land’ we now find ourselves solidly into spring and starting into break-up. Just a couple weeks back this area was experiencing daytime highs in the low to middle twenties and night time lows in the negative single digits along with a 32” (81.3 cm) snow pack; now we’re seeing daytime highs in the low to middle fifties and a heavy, dense snow pack of 10.7” (27.2 cm). I’ve already killed many mosquitoes but to this point they’ve been those that ‘over-wintered’ apparently by hiding in decaying organic matter before the snow accumulated which generates enough heat for them to survive. They are large, slow and noisy mosquitoes and hence easy to locate and kill. As soon as we see much in the way of standing water within and around the periphery of the boreal forest these insects will lay eggs which will soon hatch into larvae that will become hoards of the much small, much quieter and far more ravenous mosquitoes I so abhor. So it goes; this is south central Alaska…
As the snow dwindles and the temps rise so, too, does the daylight. As of this writing (04/13/17) we’re already seeing 14 hours 41 minutes of direct light on our way to 19 hours and 55 minutes come the Summer Solstice on June 20th at 20:24. Even without all these cues I’d know spring was upon us simply by observing the rather ‘flaky’ nature of my female Alaskan malamute (Anana); her behavioral changes are no doubt driven by hormonal shifts and while I’ve seen similar changes in other canines she really becomes wacky. She is much more aggressive towards other animals – but she remains so loving of anything on two legs – and she is starting to ‘cock her leg’ when she pees. She is also becoming even more headstrong than usual – I know of no other breed which is natively so headstrong – and she refuses to listen to me much at all. Because of this I can only walk her at times when there are no other people with dogs out and about or I have to keep her on her lead. I hate doing the latter as she spends much of our walking time sniffing out wildlife spoor and similar as well as running after Qanuk, my male GSD. Assuming this spring is like all those previous this phase will last for maybe three to four weeks before she reverts to her generally mellow and regal self.
With the advent of spring I’ve taken to walking both dogs in the early morning hours when the air temp is still a bit below freezing and the ground frozen. This area was once buried under glaciers and as the ice retreated it ground up inestimable rocks leaving behind a fine gray silt often called ‘glacial flour’. This ‘almost dust’ clings to anything wet and the dogs are very skilled at getting their coats damp by breaking ice and wading in puddles. The muddy result is almost impossible to remove with a wet towel; it has to dry and then slowly fall off their coats. When walking them in the afternoon when the ground is soggy they are covered in dirt and I generally force them to spend 90+ minutes in the mud room after we finish. This allows maybe 50% of said mud to fall off but that still leaves more than enough to make my floors ‘crunchy’! Not that I needed the assistance but I can easily locate all of Anana’s favorite sleeping areas just by looking for the layers of gray silt she leaves behind. This is life with two large canine companions in semi-rural south central Alaska. It can be a pain but I wouldn’t do without my two family members just because of a bit of mud!
I’ll leave you with a collage of recent images and a few from previous springs as well; I hope you enjoy the beauty of Alaska’s spring!
I suppose I’m creating this piece as much to remind me of the winter to this point – one which I’ve thoroughly embraced as my first ‘real’ Alaskan winter – as to share with you some thoughts and images. Without question this winter has been extreme and, no surprise, I’ve learned quite a bit more about typical Alaskan weather conditions in the winter months (November through mid-March). As I write this piece I’m seeing overcast skies with an air temp of 34.7° F (1.5° C) after never dropping below 32.8° F (0.4° C) overnight. Yesterday saw light morning snow become briefly heavy in the early afternoon before mixing with and finally changing over to freezing rain and then just rain. For a while conditions were very severe in terms of visibility and traction on the Spur.
I’ve talked with long time locals who claim freezing rain used to be very uncommon and when it did occur it happened as fall slipped into winter and again when winter finally released its grip and acceded to spring. Yet during my four winters up here I’ve seen the dreaded stuff every winter. But I’m really not complaining as this has been a much more typical south central Alaska winter and in being so we’ve seen extremes. Just three days back I saw -14° F (-25.6° C) in ‘downtown’ Talkeetna and the next morning my large circular bimetallic outdoor thermometer showed -19.5° F (-28.6° C) which was verified by my Davis Vantage Pro 2 wireless weather station. But these temps pale next to the string of four days from January 17th through January 20th when we saw lows on January 18th of -32.1° F (-35.6° C) and on January 19th of -41.3° F (-40.7° C); the high on the 18th was -20.1° F (-28.9° C) and on the 19th we saw just -15.5° F (-26.4° C). Our snow pack was a healthy 32.5″ (82.6 cm) before yesterday’s mess; even though we received 1.5″ (3.8 cm) of heavy, wet snow the warm temps and rain really did a number of the snow depth compressing it to 26.5″ (67.3 cm) which I reported to CoCoRaHS (Community Collaborative Rain, Hail & Snow network) this morning. Looking out my office window I can see water dripping from the snow and ice atop the roof; given there’s no direct sunlight this is due only to the warm temps.
Here, then, is a collage of recent images reflecting my first ‘real’ Alaskan winter; hope you enjoy:
In what I hope is a harbinger of a cold, snowy winter in semi-rural south central Alaska we saw our first snowfall from Thursday afternoon (October 20th) into early Friday morning. Although I observed just 1.75″ of uncharacteristically heavy, wet snow other areas to the south and east saw anywhere from 3″ to 9″ in the Hatcher Pass area. The SWE of the snow measured 1″ of liquid water producing 7.29″ of snow; we normally see 1″ of liquid water yielding between 12″ and 30″ of snow. However, this is not surprising given the temperature stayed a degree or two above freezing across Thursday into very early Friday morning and we saw sleet and freezing rain mixing with the snow late Thursday afternoon. The snow remains on the trees and ground as of Saturday morning but we are also seeing moderate (13-18 mph) north breezes so before long the trees will lose their snowy covering.
Here are a couple of images taken from my second floor Friday morning:
“Oh My God, it’s full of stars”… These were David Bowman’s last words as he moved toward the monolith orbiting Jupiter at the end of Arthur C. Clarke’s classic work – “2001: A Space Odyssey”. I loved this work, as well as many written by Mr. Clarke, and I’ve never forgotten that incredulous statement made as Dr. Bowman was being prepared to ‘enter’ the monolith. Flash forward to this past week in south central Alaska and the amazingly clear nights we’ve experienced; living semi-rural I’ve been able to view the only recently returned dark night skies every night for the last six evenings and they have been spectacular!
Initially I was looking to view ‘Nature’s light show’ – the Aurora Borealis – and I was just blown away by the displays from Tuesday late evening right through early Wednesday morning. It was the best display I’ve observed since I moved up here in August of 2013 and second only to an incredible display I viewed with a friend up on The Haul Road (aka ‘The Dalton Highway’ AK 11) in early September of 2000.
But the aurora are fickle and despite forecasts from UAF of ‘high+’ (between 6 and 7 on the 0 to 9 scale) across the next four evenings I never saw any additional displays. But every night I was treated to a star filled sky; in the early evenings I could easily see the edge-on view of the Milky Way. As the night progressed I saw many of the now familiar constellations such as Ursa Major – the same depicted on the Alaska state flag – and Ursa Minor along with Cassiopeia, Cygnus and Pisces. By early morning when the air temps hovered around -6.67° C (20.00° F) the night sky was often crystal clear with the stars twinkling like icy diamonds. Although I’ve seen this sight many, many nights now it still never ceases to evoke a sense of awe and wonder to realize as I view the incredible night sky I’m looking back in time and any given point of light could be a star now gone due to novae or supernovae but the light of said destruction has yet to reach Earth. So just by looking up at the clear night sky I could easily utter those now famous words from David Bowman’s encounter with the monolith. But I feel more comfortable with a line from a favored Enya song named, appropriately enough, “Paint The Sky With Stars”:
Place a name upon the night
One to set your heart alight
And to make the darkness bright
Paint the sky with stars.
It’s a cool, damp and dark day yet again in south central Alaska along with being the Autumnal Equinox; I’m taking a break from working a plethora of spreadsheets to look out the window. Uncharacteristically, there’s a fair amount of wind even down close to the ground and combined with the cool drizzle – it is 43.8° F/6.6° C – the yellow and gold birch leaves are rapidly falling to the ground denuding their homes of the last four plus months. Said leaves are forming a yellow carpet which while pretty can be rather slippery when coated with rain. The second floor view from my office window looks south into a portion of the boreal forest which makes up part of my yard and is often home to moose as there are a number of dwarf willows intermingled with the other ground based fauna. Sadly, most of the color change is now just a memory as the weather is feeling more and more like fall. We have seen a morning temperature below freezing just once to this point which probably explains why these conditions seem to be about a week to a week and a half later than I remember.
Even with the windows closed I can hear the dulcet tones of my wind chimes; it occurs to me I haven’t heard much from them this year but then the thick boreal forest which I live within and stretches for tens of miles in every direction does an excellent job of stopping the wind. It is not uncommon for me to see the tops of birches and spruce – around 35 to 40 feet (10.7 to 12.2 meters) – swaying many feet off center while there is almost no air moving at ground level and even smoke from the burn barrel rises only slightly off vertical. The sky continues its multiple day run of ragged overcast birthing drizzle along with the occasional rain shower. Indeed, we’ve seen 0.96” (2.44 cm) of rain across the last 48 hours. September is this area’s second wettest month of the year averaging 4.2” (10.67 cm) but this September we’ve already seen 4.78” (12.14 cm) of rain which is 113.8% of normal. We still have eight days left in September and we’re forecast to see rain across most of them so it is very likely we could well see 150% of ‘typical’ monthly rainfall.
I, along with most of the locals, am wishing for a ‘real’ Alaskan winter across 2016 – 2017. The previous three winters have set records for the warmest and driest on record. I long to see 5 feet (1.52 meters) of snow pack and taste the raw cold of a -35° F (-37.2° C) morning; while these might seem extreme in a ‘typical’ winter in south central Alaska they are almost ‘normal’. Heck, I’d even deal with a daylong electrical outage if it were caused by a snowstorm dropping 20” (50.8 cm) of fluffy Talkeetna snow. But, as we all know, Mother Nature will do as she will and we’re just along for the ride.
With the advent of autumn I’ve begun my ‘winterization’ routines; this being the fourth such repetition I’m beginning to get the routine down. If the snow holds off for another seven to eight weeks I hope to get a number of blown down trees cut up, sized and stacked for seasoning. My buddy, Sarge, will be visiting for a couple of weeks in mid-October and we have a number of large projects scheduled like building a wood shed and creating my long time longed for ‘aurorium’ from which I can view the aurora borealis in comfort. There a myriad of other smaller projects as well but by the time we’re done I hope to be at a point whereby I’m done with ‘home improvement’ efforts for a while and can instead concentrate on ‘home maintenance’ work.
There’s a comfortable rhythm in this lifestyle; one tied so closely to Nature. My Chickadees, Red-Breasted Nuthatches and similar are now at the feeders continually and I’d guess 85% of the black oilers they select are going into cracks in tree bark and similar as stored food for the upcoming winter. They are also much more vocal when the feeders are empty; while the Nuthatches will dive bomb me chattering away I swear if I held out my hand a few of the Chickadees would alight and scold me vociferously. I was seeing lots of moose a few weeks back but now that hunting season is open they are nowhere to be found. I suspect the bears will soon begin to head up to higher elevations seeking dens in which to sleep away yet another winter. And the days are really becoming shorter now; within a week or so I will remove the last of my light barriers in the master bedroom in anticipation of clear evenings enhanced by the aurora. This flow just seems so natural and peaceful.
Alaska is an amazing place and one which is so closely tied to Nature; I love living up here as do my canine companions Anana and Qanuk. I so enjoy watching Anana come back into the house after her morning ‘constitutional’ to take care of business when the temp first drops below freezing; she has a spring in her step and a glint in her eyes. Qanuk just goes with the flow; as long as he gets outside to run once a day he’s happy. I am blessed to have both of them with me up here and they are a huge part of my life in semi-rural Alaska. And they continually remind me of the importance of living in the ‘now’; no need to worry about the past or the future – just enjoy ‘now’.
Sadly, I have to get back to my spreadsheeting but I also have a warm and peaceful feeling as I hear my Toyo Monitor furnace grumbling as it comes to life. It has run just twice last week; prior to that it was late April when it last fired up. I know I’ll be hearing a lot more of it in the coming weeks and I’ll be supplementing it with some now seasoned firewood in the wood burning stove Sarge and I installed last October. The wind continues to blow the yellow and gold birch leaves around under a dark, ragged cloud cover. Mmmm, this I just another wonderful Alaskan day..!