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..!

Amazing Moon Light

I’ve assembled a few images taken yesterday (Wednesday) morning around 06:00 AKST.  The air was crystal clear thanks to no fog and an air temp of -23 F.  The images are mainly looking at portions of my back yard.  I found it amazing that I could actually read printing on a large bag of dog food by just the light of the moon and through the dining room window at that!

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This image was taken from my bedroom on the second floor and is look mainly to the west

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A small portion of my lot to the west of the house as back lit by that brilliant moon; the temp was around -23 F when this was taken

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The fluffy snow is showing small ‘sparkles’ in the bright moon light; the foreground shows the back porch railing with the precipitation gauge I use to generate daily readings which I send in to CoCoRaHS (Community Collaborative, Rain, Hail and Snow) network