Alaskan Skies & Weather

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’…


This is Gunsite Mountain just north of the Glenn Highway.  If you look closely at the ‘dished’ area you will see a tiny square notch with the overcast gray sky visible beyond; hence the mountain’s name.

The Spur after the storm.JPG

A portion of ‘the Spur’ which runs from the ‘Y’ (intersection of the ‘Y’ and the Parks Highway also known as AK 3) to the village of Talkeetna after an overnight early spring snowfall

SR Basin-taiga XC.jpg

Savage River Basin in Denali NP&P on an early September afternoon.  The taiga and tussock tundra are in full fall color; this image has not been manipulated in any manner and I wasn’t using any special filters.  It is just this colorful!

Lil Cloud That Could.JPG

I spied this ‘Little Cloud That Could’ on the Parks Highway just outside Houston.  I don’t know if the rain was reaching the ground but I’d never seen just a single small cloud in an almost clear sky trying so hard to make rain!

AK 11 Orange Trees CU.JPG

Hill side fall color along the Elliot Highway (AK 2) between its junction with the Dalton Highway (AK 11) and Fairbanks.  Notice the small line of orange colored trees just a bit above and left of center; such color is rare up here due to a dearth of hardwood trees.

Thunderstorm Outflow at Fish Lake.JPG

Classic thunderstorm out-wash above the float plane docks on Fish Lake around Mile 9.5 on the Spur.  The thunderstorms were forming along the Talkeetna Mountains to the east.

Timbers Red Sunset2.jpg

A fiery red sunset over Kachemak Bay as seen from the front porch of a magical little cabin in Kachemak Bay SP&P named ‘Timbers’.


The same view as above but on a different day and time.


The incredible Aurora Borealis as seen from a neighbor’s place perhaps six miles north of my home.  The late fall/early winter of 2016/2017 featured amazingly clear skies and intense auroral activity.  Many nights I lay in bed and just watched ‘Nature’s Light Show’ for hours.


The eastern Alaska Range as seen from a pipeline access pull out on The Richardson Highway (AK 4) maybe thirty miles south of Delta Junction.  It was early September of 2000 when this image was captured looking SSW and a brief snow event had occurred across the night.

AK 11 Alyeska Pipeline Into Fog WA.JPG

Split layer fog is relatively common in Alaska and this is a classic shot of said weather phenomena.  Just left of center is the Alyeska pipeline with the road splitting off to the right.  This was taken somewhere along the Dalton Highway (AK 11).

Foraker Forming Lenticular Cloud in AM.JPG

Mighty Mount Foraker (17,400 feet in elevation) is tall enough to form its own weather as evidenced by the lenticular clouds forming above its peak.  This image was taken from the Spur around Mile 5.

AK 11 Alyeska Pullout Sunset 6.JPG

A ‘molten’ orange-red sunset taken from a pull-out along the Dalton Highway (AK 11) just a bit north of Coldfoot.

MtIliamna Sunset.jpg

A majestic early September sunset above Mount Illiamna which is a four peaked active ‘strato-volcano’ exceeding 10,000 feet in elevation.  The image was taken at Stariski SRS and is looking west across Cook Inlet.


The huge Alaskan sky as seen from a gravel pit pull-out along the Dalton Highway (AK 11).  My buddy was using his video camera to capture the same ‘big sky’ effect.

Blowing Snow on Spur.JPG

It’s Alaska so ya gotta have one image of snow falling, right..?  This was taken in January of 2017 as I was driving south down the Spur from the village to my home.

Clouds Then Mountains CU.JPG

Close up of an unknown glacier in the Kenai Mountains with a thick cloud layer almost cutting off the tops of the mountains; the image was taken from the foothills around Homer and looking across Kachemak Bay.

Denali in Morning Alpenglow adj.JPG

Mighty Denali (20,287 feet in elevation) cloaked in morning Alpenglow as seen from the famous overlook on the Spur.  From this point the village of Talkeetna is just another couple miles up the road.


Suggestions of Spring

The sun is not yet above the horizon at 07:51 AKDT on the Vernal Equinox – which arrived in this area at 02:29 this morning – but it is light enough to see the surrounding space which remains cloaked in a 22.0 inch (55.9 cm) snow pack although the incessant winds across March have cleared virtually all the snow from the trees.  Our maximum snow pack was 35.5 inches (90.2 cm) back in middle February but within a week or so of that time all precipitation ceased.  This dry spell, coupled with almost Chinook style winds and the longer, sunny days definitely did a number on the slowly compacting snow pack.  Yesterday we flirted with 35° F (1.7° C) under sunny skies but at least the winds of March seemed to have weakened to just gentle (8-12 mph or 13-19 kph) breezes.  This morning the air is calm for the first time in over two weeks.

As I stare out my second floor office window I can just recognize some suggestions that spring is not far away even here at sixty two degrees north latitude.  The exhaust from my Toyo stove, which drifts almost directly across my office window when the air is calm, is much less dense and is occurring less frequently than a few weeks earlier.  While we are seeing a -2.2° F (-19° C) air temp I’m also expecting to see an afternoon high around 35° F (1.7° C) under sunny skies.  The boughs of the spruce trees are beginning to ‘perk up’ a bit after bearing heavy amounts of snow from late December through middle February.  And our direct daylight is now up to 12 hours 17 minutes and increasing daily by 6 minutes 1 second!  These longer days are beginning to slowly melt the snow pack even if the air temps remain well below freezing.  Indeed, when working towards my goal of 10,000 steps/day – I’m currently around 7,800 steps/day – I have started taking a collapsible walking staff with me as the icy hard packed snow coverage on the back roads is becoming slippery especially when just a thin layer of water appears atop it.  This lack of traction is emphasized as I watch my male German Shepherd Dog (Qanuk) perform multiple slips and slides along with a few face plants as he revels in our daily walks.  Anana, my female Alaskan Malamute, is more restrained and hence remains upright most of the time.  There is something to be said for the wisdom of age!

I finally was able to experience a ‘real’ south central Alaskan winter after three previous ‘winters that weren’t’.  I did feel the bite of -40° F (-40° C) air temps, wind chills another ten to fifteen degrees below those temps and an almost three foot snow pack that remained for at least two and a half weeks.  I was treated to intense and vibrant auroral displays across much of the late fall when clear skies coincided with the Aurora Borealis.  Having completed my fourth consecutive winter in Alaska I think I can finally claim to be a veteran of ‘The Great Land’ and its kaleidoscope of weather conditions.  But maybe most surprising to me is I’m actually ready for the seasonal change.  During the three previous Vernal Equinoxes I was lamenting the end of winter and not enthusiastic about the oncoming spring with its insects and tourists.  But now I find myself awaiting the warmer weather even if it brings mosquitoes and the inevitable tourist traffic and congestion.  Perhaps I’m finally becoming sanguine with the aforementioned as well as the knowledge that within five to six weeks there will be no dark night skies again until early September?

Before long I’ll be indulging in what has become a ritual involving preparing for spring and summer.  I’ll be swapping tools and equipment between the mud room/front porch and the shed.  The generator will be drained of fuel which will go into the Escape’s gas tank.  The battery conditioner/recharger will be stowed in the shed and I will be getting the ‘Mosquito Magnet’ ready for operation.  I’ll be smearing some ‘bat attractant’ on the entrance to the bat house which my buddy Sarge hung last October; hopefully I’ll attract some Little Brown bats and convince them to set up house and help control the mosquito hordes.  In this same vein I’ll be relocating my tree swallow houses for the third time in the hopes I can attract some nesting pairs to add to my attempts at natural mosquito control.  So many of these actions are now ‘old friends’ and form a kind of seasonal dance or celebration.  For the first time since I relocated I’ll be doing them with joy and the knowledge that regardless of what the upcoming six months may hold for me winter will again return and I will have the opportunity to experience yet another spring, summer and fall in ‘The Great Land’.

Muskeg Under Clouds

The last of the ice on muskeg a bit east of my place on East Barge Drive is disappearing in the image from spring of 2015

Paint The Sky With Stars

“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.


Alaskan aurora courtesy Jan Curtis

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.


The amazing view of our spiral galaxy – The Milky Way!

Mosquitoes, Tourists…and Summer Sunlight

Today, May 27th, just happens to be yet another gorgeous late morning here in the Talkeetna area; the sun rides hot and high in the azure sky while gentle WSW breezes riffle the new leaves on trees and other plants.  The temperature is already above 60°F on its way to the middle seventies; that’s perhaps fifteen degrees above normal but then that’s how the temps have been running.  After a ‘winter’ – and I use the term very loosely – sleep the landscape is once again not just awakening but flourishing.  And with this seasonal shift comes other markers of the late spring in south-central Alaska.  The mosquitoes are out in force and the village is once again awash in tourists…and there is no longer a dark night sky.

This is one facet of living in the higher latitudes I have yet to adjust to and truly wonder if I ever will come to embrace.  As with my feelings towards the weather, in general, I prefer change on a relatively regular cycle but this is no longer an option.  And it will not be until late August; for me that three and a half month period is a long time to wait.  I know I have definite biases against the almost continual sunlight of the boreal summer based mainly upon my preference for cool temps – as in high temps in the low sixties – and I’ve always been a night sky watcher.  With the advent of each new spring I find myself once again preparing for warm temps and a complete lack of a night, as in dark, sky.  Couple these understandings with my distaste for hordes of mosquitoes and tourists – not sure which I dislike more although I also understand their value to this area – and it isn’t difficult to see why summer is my least favorite season right after break up.

Sure, I recognize there are some real pluses to the extended daylight.  Plants really grow under 17+ hours of direct light and there is far more time for outdoor activities not tied to snow and/or ice.  In addition, the moderating temps allow for the cycle of life to renew itself; if in doubt just notice how many cow moose have calves in tow now.  Perhaps if I could more readily adjust my circadian rhythms I wouldn’t feel so negative towards the long boreal days..?  My first two summers in Alaska were difficult for me with respect to dealing with the long days.  I quickly learned how to seal up my bedroom against light that never really dies and is just plain bright from 04:00 through 00:00; this had to happen as I am light sensitive when it comes to sleeping.  Late last summer I read about a study suggesting a small dose of melatonin once in the morning and again in the late afternoon to early evening can help reset one’s biological clock.  In elderly folks this regime can also reduce stress and lower blood pressure when followed.  I started this in August of 2015 and based upon that brief trial I was all set to start it again with the advent of this May.

It seems a bit strange to me that I have absolutely no issues with the extended darkness of winter; I was urged to take a vitamin D supplement to combat depression and SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) but after three winters I just haven’t felt the need to do so.  And, of course, being a cold and snow lover the environmental conditions suit me to a ‘tee’ although I’m still waiting to experience a ‘real’ south central Alaskan winter.  But maybe most important to me is with the advent of very late calendar summer the night sky returns and I can once more relish the aurora, marvel at the constellations and hope for clear skies without a moon when the Leonid and Geminids meteor showers are in our astrological ‘back yard’.

I now laugh, as I’d wager other folks living at these latitudes do, when people from the lower 48 ask me how I can handle the extended darkness.  Most are surprised if not shocked to hear I prefer the darkness and have a much more difficult time dealing with the 20 hours of direct light we see on the summer solstice.  I think it is a matter of ‘imagination’ versus ‘reality’.  People who’ve never experienced such extended daylight think it would be fantastic to have longer days to get out and do activities.  But they fail to grasp the potential upset such long days with no real nights can and do wreck upon one’s normal biological rhythms.  I have tried to explain some of the negatives to such long days but for the most part my attempts fall on deaf ears; in most cases I think one has to spend a summer in such conditions to begin to understand it is not all bright sunny days…

I suspect folks born to these conditions are wondering why I’m making such a big deal out of the natural flow of the seasons.  In my time up here I’ve come to recognize such extremes in terms of light and dark are part of the ‘Alaskan Experience’ and fit right in with the often noted extremes in weather, wildlife and the landscape.  And, ultimately, I’m really not complaining as I realize these conditions help fuel the majesty and magic that is ‘The Last Frontier’.  Sure, if I could have my way I’d probably opt to make the long boreal days occur perhaps just in June and July but we all know the ‘value’ in wishing for things that cannot be…  After all; would I appreciate the dark and cold winter as much without the counterbalance of the warm, bright summer?  Most definitely not!  Sooner or later I’ll reach some kind of equanimity with the boreal summer; in the interim at least it does sharpen my apprehension of boreal winter!


I should take a lesson from my canine companions who truly understand the value of living in the moment!