Finally…A ‘Real’ Alaskan Winter!

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:

cool-downtown

A view of my Escape’s dash showing a fairly cool Saturday morning in ‘downtown’ Talkeetna

snowy-village

The Spur heading out of Talkeetna cloaked in heavy snow

20-sunrise

Cool sunrise at my place on Sunday, February 12th

anana-qanuk-in-heavy-snow

Anana and Qanuk enjoying a brief burst of heavy snow outside our place

anana-disappearing-into-snow

A very snowy afternoon on East Barge Drive with Anana (center of image) just disappearing into the snow

anana-by-thermometer

Anana by the thermometer which is reading much milder temps!

The Rains of September

Most folks following this blog know of my fascination with meteorology and my expression of said interest by participating in volunteer functions like ‘Skywarn spotting’ and ‘CoCoRaHS’ (Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow network) as well as reporting on the marvelous extremes of weather in The Last Frontier.  I’ve always been a sky watcher and had learned to predict short term weather in the lower 48 just by observing the clouds and winds along with the barometric pressure.  Since relocating to Alaska I’ve had to re-learn this knowledge as it is quite different this far north but I’m having great fun undertaking this re-education.

August is historically Talkeetna’s rainiest month averaging 4.5″ (11.43 cm) of rain but September is a close second at 4.2″ (10.67 cm) of rain.  As you may know from June and July’s wildfires in The Great Land 2015 has been very dry, at least up until this month.  During 2015 only July hit its historical rainfall amount although obviously September is going to grossly exceed its ‘typical’ rainfall!  As I watch the ongoing moderate rains out my office window I am again reminded that in Alaska the weather rules and we humans are just along for the ride and must learn to be both flexible and patient.  Since this latest rain event started last Saturday evening I’ve recorded 2.14″ (5.44 cm) of rain with 1.44″ (3.66 cm) of that amount occurring between 07:00 Sunday morning and 07:00 this (Monday, 09/28) morning.  Since sending in that report to CoCoRaHS this morning I’ve accumulated another 0.33″ (0.84 cm) or so as of 10:40 AKDST and the rain continues:

CoCoRaHS Rain Gauge showing 0.33

CoCoRaHS Rain Gauge showing 0.33″ accumulated rainfall in previous 3.6 hours!

I believe the aforementioned 1.44″ (3.66 cm) of rain across a 24 hour period is the largest amount I’ve recorded during such a time period since relocating to Alaska in September of 2013.

Yet this rain is just the precursor to what could well be significant accumulating snowfall which NWS is currently projecting to begin in roughly 24 hours for this area.  Everything depends upon the speed at which the very cold mass of Siberian air moves into the Mat-Su Valley; the faster this happens the more snow we will receive.  If it happens sooner than forecast we could see over 6″ (15.24 cm) of snow especially at elevations above 1,000 feet (304.8 m) in the Susitna Valley with larger accumulations further north.  If it arrives later then we’ll see more rain and less snow.  I sympathize with the forecasting folks at NWS because so much affects the movement of such an air mass like pressure, upper level winds, lower level winds in the mountains and temperature.

I am very concerned about the rain; given we’ve already seen 2.14″ (5.44 cm) since the event began Saturday evening and the rain is forecast to continue as moderate to heavy rain into Tuesday we could see amounts above 3.5″ (8.89 cm) across the period.  Because the ground is already beginning to freeze the water cannot soak in as well and hence tends to pool and form torrents which can and do wash out the local road system.  I am expecting to pick up a buddy flying from SW Michigan to Anchorage this Wednesday (09/30) evening and the only driving route to Anchorage is the Parks Highway (AK 3) to the Glenn Highway (AK 1).  There are numerous areas along the Parks between Talkeetna and the intersection with the Glenn which have washed out in the past and these conditions are as extreme in terms of rain as any I’ve experienced in my 24 months living up here.  I have driven the Parks in snow and ice but I’ve never had to negotiate washed out areas; at least that hadn’t been repaired before my arrival.

While I love snow and cold I must admit to hoping that the rains do not continue as they sure appear they will do; I’d rather negotiate a foot (30.48 cm) of snow than try to navigate washed out portions of the Parks!  Ironically my buddy is visiting in part to assist me with mounting an electric winch on my Escape; at least I do have a hand powered ‘come along’ capable of moving 4,000 pounds (1,841.4 kg) in the back cargo area along with my standard winter survival kit.  I never thought I’d be hoping for little snow and no more rain but this is the case!  I will remain glued to the NWS and ADOT websites especially tomorrow morning moving into Wednesday.  It appears Alaska is looking to test me once again and I can only rely on my experience and the reports from the aforementioned services to determine if I should attempt the drive Wednesday evening.  At least my buddy has the option of getting a rental car and motel room should the worst come to fruition…

I've never seen so much ponding water on my driveway! In fact I can never remember seeing any pools of water on the portion in this image!!

I’ve never seen so much ponding water on my driveway! In fact I can never remember seeing any pools of water on the portion in this image!!

 

Rain and Responsibility

The past couple of evenings I’ve been able to lie awake in my bed and listen to the sound of rain tapping on the metal roof. I’ve always loved this sound but I really enjoy it now because of the metal roof; it truly brings out the sometimes steady and other times not so steady drum of the rain drops. Given the dearth of precipitation this past year the soothing sound of rain drops striking the roof are truly appreciated. But there is even more to love about this sound as it signals an easing of the drought conditions in this area and is assisting the firefighters in their heroic efforts to control the wildfires of Alaska. Although it truly took a while Mother Nature has finally seen fit to bathe this area in some much needed moisture!

Across the past two days I’ve reported 0.94” of rain to CoCoRaHS (Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow network) and while July is the third wettest month of the year in Talkeetna we now have 2.41” of precipitation. Given we’re just 18 days into the month and showing 2.41” we’re 67% of the way to the normal rainfall total with 13 days remaining so with a bit of luck we might make the average rainfall total for July. If this happens it will be the first month in 2015 that we’ve reached or exceeded the monthly rainfall amount.

Sadly this is a bit late for the victims of the fires in June and early July and comes on the heels of more information released about the inexcusable stupidity and utter disregard for safety displayed by the perpetrator of the Sockeye Fire, one Greg Imig, along with Amy Dewitt whom both live in Anchorage. No, they have yet to be arraigned but Imig reportedly confessed to burning trash on that fateful Sunday morning which quickly escaped his control and began what would become the Sockeye Fire. The couple claimed they called 911 when the fire was already out of containment but they gave no location or their names. In addition, they apparently left in huge hurry leaving a chainsaw, gas cans and jack pads for a motorhome behind. Spent fireworks were found at the scene but they are not believed to be the primary source of the fire.

But there is more to this story that provides damning evidence regarding the utter negligence of this duo. Imig was apparently an on-air meteorologist at one time; given the conditions that Sunday morning any rational person would have recognized the utter stupidity of having open fires but a meteorologist should most definitely have known better. There were Red Flag warnings all over the state and any sensible person would have realized the immediate danger of any open flames. Yet this individual decided to ignore common sense and all the warning and burn open brush piles..?!?! Because of this pair’s rank idiocy 55 dwellings were destroyed, many more damaged, an uncounted number of animals threatened and some apparently killed, hundreds of acres of boreal forest incinerated, multiple forced evacuations were implemented and hundreds of firefighters risked their lives spending days fighting a completely unnecessary fire.

Because we are a country of laws, or were before the recent administrations decided they know better than our founders, this must be allowed to play out in our court system. Somehow I have a feeling the real pain for these incomprehensibly stupid people will come in the form of the soon to be filed civil actions. This is how our system works and we need to allow it to take over and proceed. Assuming this pair is to blame, and with Imig’s confession of guilt it seems a given, they should feel the full weight of the legal judgments against them.

All of us wonder why someone would undertake such dangerous actions in the wake of so many warnings; it just seems incomprehensible. Sadly, I fear this is yet another example of the PC driven solipsism that seems to be sweeping the world. So many people are so powerfully inculcated to just live within their own heads and serve only their own interests and needs; we’re becoming a culture that almost refuses to look outside ourselves. In such a scenario if one wanted to ‘enjoy’ burning trash and debris then just do it; such individuals never even consider the potential consequences of their actions except as it might affect themselves. Perhaps if our numbers were just tiny fractions of what they are currently we could get by with such a mindset but this is not the case. Human beings tend to live in groups and as such it becomes necessary to not just think about one’s own needs but to think also about the good of the group. Yes, this does require more effort, at least until one trains one’s self to automatically figure the group’s needs and safety into one’s mental calculus, but it is necessary for people to exist in close proximity and especially in large numbers. Yet paradoxically, as we continue to increase our numbers, a large portion of us put ourselves ahead of all others and continue to be focused upon just our own wants and desires. This trend is not something that is wise yet somehow we have generations of folks who follow its path; often to the detriment of their fellow human beings.

Perhaps we are reaching a tipping point of sorts when we must all sit back, take a deep breath and look into ourselves with as much objectivity as possible and ask; “Am I really concerned about the needs and safety of my fellow human beings?” After all, in the end we are all the same and in this together. Personally I’ve found I have no choice but to accept assistance from others and this only increases as we age. Maybe it is time to really evaluate just how much empathy we have for our fellow human beings? Living in Alaska one of the things I truly admire is what I call ‘the fierce sense of freedom and independence’ so pre-eminent in so many of the people. But along with this comes the undeniable acceptance that at times we all need a hand. Alaskans in general manage to balance this so very well; we cherish our independence and freedoms but we are also among the first to offer assistance to those truly in need. In this sense the lower48 and, indeed, the rest of the world could learn a bit from those of us who call ‘The Great Land’ our home.

Close up of burned Boreal Forest

Close up of burned Boreal Forest

What Winter..?!?

It’s official; I’ve given up on the 2014-2015 ‘winter’ in south central Alaska!  Although it is just March 2nd and in a normal winter up here we’d be seeing snow and cold for at minimum another six weeks I’m betting we’ll see few snow events and those we see will be minimal (i.e. less than 6” total) in nature.  I’m sure we’ll see cold temps just as we have across the past four days but then we are already seeing regular high temps that break freezing if the sun is out even if we started with a single digit morning low temp.  Of course this reflects the lengthening days and with them the more direct sunlight but in a typical March we’d still be seeing snow and cold and that would easily extend into April.

This morning I measured the SWE (snow water equivalent) along with the snow depth for my Monday morning CoCoRaHS (Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow network) report; the snow depth is a piddling 12.5” and it really isn’t snow but more like saturated snow or ice.  The SWE is 3.09” which equates to one inch of water equaling 4.045” of snow.  Anyone at all familiar with snow knows that in general an inch of liquid water will produce between 7 and 10 inches of snow; therefore this ‘snow’ is indeed saturated!  Looking back over February we broke the freezing mark 17 out of 28 days; keep in mind February is the third coldest month after December and January!  That basically means 61% of the days in the third coldest month in south central Alaska saw above freezing high temps.  Many comments come to mind but perhaps the most PC is:  “That’s just wrong!”

Most frustrating to me is the simple realization that this winter will go down in the records as one of the two warmest on the books; and the competition is last year’s ‘winter’!  So for the first two winters I’ve lived in Alaska there have been two record-breaking warm and dry ‘winters’.  Lest you need reminding I moved up here to experience feet of snow and bone chilling cold; the former hasn’t happened while we’ve seen maybe five days each ‘winter’ when the temps dropped below -20 F.  I swore if I see three such ‘winters’ in a row I was going to leave here and move north of Fairbanks; sadly this would only partly improve on the conditions as even the northern Interior has seen record warmth across the past two ‘winters’.

Meanwhile the place I left – SE Michigan – saw record snow last winter and has seen well above normal snow along with very cold temps across both winters.  Prior to leaving I was just fed up with SE Michigan’s winters which were largely brown with 36 F temps and rain.  In fact the winter of 2012-2013 saw a record absence of both snow and cold.  I recall thinking I didn’t care what the weather did in Michigan after I departed because I was guaranteed of seeing all the cold and snow I could handle in my new home.  So much for that belief…!!

So here I sit typing this whining blog entry while looking outside, seeing bright sunshine and an air temp of 26.4 F at 12:13 AKST.  If the sunshine remains we’ll easily cross 32 F by 17:15 which is the current warmest part of the day.  It is amazing that just six weeks back it was totally dark by 17:15; the light cycle is really exaggerated in the higher latitudes.  And I am looking forward to being able to get some much-needed outside work handled once a bit more of the icy snow-pack disappears.  I gave up a lot in terms of favored weather to relocate up here; I love severe thunderstorms and tornadic weather but neither of these occur at any time up here.  I also gave up the hardwood colors of fall when moving here; while the yellows and golds of the birch and larches are pretty I do miss the reds, oranges and violets or the maples, oaks and elms.  And I really do not care for the summer and its continual light!  I never realized how much of a night sky watcher I am until I completed my first full Alaskan summer in 2014; by the start of July I was very tired of constant light with no night sky.  The real issue is such conditions will not return until middle August.  At least the summers up here are much cooler than those in SE Michigan although because I live in the middle of the boreal forest the humidity is almost as bad.

By penning this I’ve demonstrated I’m no Alaskan yet as real Alaskans just shrug off unusual weather and get on with business.  I just have a hard time when I realize now I will not be seeing the possibility for a true Alaskan winter until November of 2015!  However, beyond the weather there’s a myriad to love about my home and I really need to focus on all that and just let go of the lack of real winter weather to this point.  A few of the locals have warned me to be careful what I wish for; while I hear them I would love to see four feet of snow-pack and weeks of air temps rising to just single digits while dropping into the negative teens or even lower!  Hopefully one day I will get the opportunity before I’m too old to really appreciate such conditions.  But given what I’ve seen to date such conditions are at best very unlikely this ‘winter’.  And so I’ve plunged my imaginary fork into the ‘winter’ of 2014-2015 as it is ‘done’!

What I should be seeing when I walk to the intersection of East Barge Drive and Riven.  Sadly the unmaintained portion of EBD has bits of the gravel road surface visible through the disappearing snow and ice.

What I should be seeing when I walk to the intersection of East Barge Drive and Riven. Sadly the unmaintained portion of EBD has bits of the gravel road surface visible through the disappearing snow and ice even though it’s just now March.

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:

112013

122013

012014

022014

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!

Zero Degrees Celsius At Sixty Two Degrees North Latitude

The recent Labor Day weekend was gorgeous here in south central Alaska with three days of azure blue high pressure skies, abundant sunshine and highs in the lower to middle teens with morning lows from -2 C to 0 C. This was a refreshing change from the rather mundane weather across most of August and hopefully is a promise as to a ‘normal’ fall and especially winter this year. Granted, it was just a bit early to see freezing temps here in Talkeetna as it is more ‘normal’ to see frosts occurring around now with the actual freezes waiting until the second half of September but such conditions are far from unheard of in this area. My canine companions loved the cool morning walks; indeed, my female Alaskan Malamute (Anana) had a spring in her step and was running like I haven’t seen since last winter. Concurrent with this cooler weather darkness has once again returned to the night skies and I found I truly missed its presence across the previous three months! It was wonderful to once again see stars within the darkness. The seasonal dance is once more underway after seeming to have stalled during the summer and I couldn’t be more pleased.

I’m now almost a month into my second year of rural living in south central Alaska and I find I am loving the lifestyle even more; it just feels ‘right’ to be starting to work on a bevy of chores tied to the approach of fall. With the demise of the mosquitoes midway through August the propane tank on my ‘Mosquito Magnet’ obligingly emptied itself so I disconnected it and stored it in my shed. I’m just finishing cleaning and winterizing the main unit and soon it, too, will find its winter resting place in the shed. I pulled down my hummingbird feeder; it never attracted any of the ‘flying jewels’ but in July the Swallow Tailed Butterflies made good use of its nectar. I will probably not bother hanging it again next year but who knows; hope does spring eternal!

Last winter I learned an important lesson regarding the snow pack and my shed; even though it is more than a foot off the ground by December there was so much snow it was impossible to open the door. As I use it for storage this was a real problem; I could not get to items I needed and hence had to awkwardly wade the snow and shovel just enough away to get the door open. In hindsight we saw just 33% of the ‘typical’ snowfall last winter so this year I’m planning ahead and digging out items I know I’ll need like snow shovels, snow rake, battery charger/starter and similar. These will be staged on the front porch or in the mud room for easy access. I’ll return items like my bicycle, pump and ground pads to the shed. This will ensure I have the items I really need at the ready before the snow flies.

I also drained the gasoline in the generator and changed the oil. I took the three full five gallon Jerry cans of gasoline I’ve had on hand since last fall (Yes, I added Sta-bil to each just after filling!) and emptied them into the Escape’s fuel tank. I’ll haul all four can to the gas station, fill them up, return them to the house, add Sta-bil to each and empty one into the generator’s tank. This way I’ve cycled the gasoline and will have fifteen gallons on hand for the upcoming fall and winter. Last season I had all four cans filled along with the generator but given I used just one can across the period I think having three full cans as back up is probably sufficient.

I finally removed the sun shields from the master bedroom windows and replaced the screens; it was wonderful to once again have fresh air flowing in that room! I’ll leave the screens in now but will also be prepared to apply the 3M film once it is truly cold again. With the cool weekend I discovered my Toyo furnace is functioning just fine when I accidentally left a few windows open Friday night. I awoke early Saturday morning to a ‘strange’ noise; until I really became conscious I didn’t realize it was the Toyo firing up! Not being a fan of heating the great outdoors I immediately jumped up, threw on some clothes and proceeded to locate the three windows I’d left open and close them. Given the -0.5 C outdoor air temp I wasn’t surprised to see the main floor air temp was 9 C. Definitely a bone headed maneuver on my part but at least this did prove the Toyo is ready for the upcoming cold.

Thinking about last winter and some procedures which didn’t really work well I’ve some new plans of action. The dogs normally use the back door to access the back porch and then the back yard; I didn’t keep their path well shoveled initially and then I had a huge issue with icy steps. This year I’m getting my butt outside any time we have more than a few inches of new show and clearing it while the dogs are outside; my goal is to keep their access route clear of any ice and snow. Speaking of ‘the kidz’ I have booties for my male German Shepherd Dog (Qanuk) as he had real issues with the extreme cold last year; his paws eventually cracked and bled as did the areas between his pads. I now know I have to control his outside exercise based upon the air temp but the booties should also help. Anana suffered no issues which isn’t a surprise given this is the home of her breed but I will be checking even her tough paws on a regular basis.

As I measure daily precipitation for CoCoRaHS (Community Collaborative Rain Hail & Snow network) I will also need to keep the path to my snow board – it’s located on the SW corner of the back porch railing – open and as free from snow as possible. And, if we get any truly monumental dumps I will need to have access to the back yard such that I can shovel an area for the kidz to take care of their business. I’ll also insure I have a large broom staged by the back door as last year the snow was often light and fluffy and hence could be ‘broomed’ away. I’ve also rearranged my winter ‘ditty bag’ to fit into a milk crate which will go back into the Escape soon; it contains everything I’d need to get by for a few days if stranded by winter weather while out on the road.

These are just a few of the ongoing tasks one undertakes when preparing for the seasonal shift in this area. I truly enjoy them as they are reminders of last year’s fun in what winter we had and also a harbinger of the approaching fall and winter. All around me there are signs of this change; the birch are beginning to change into their yellow and gold colors and the taiga/tundra is already shifting to that majestic patchwork carpet of gorgeous reds, oranges, yellows and greens. There’s a feeling of increased activity within the boreal forest as the inhabitants prepare to either move to warmer areas or hunker down for the winter. In the lower 48 fall was always my favorite season; based on my 13 months of living in the Talkeetna area I’d say winter is now my favorite month with fall right behind it. But more than anything else I feel my essence reverberating in harmony with the seasonal changes and this seems to release more energy and appreciation of Nature’s wondrous dance…and what a partner she is!!

The valley area around Savage River Station in Denali NP&P seen in early September color

The valley area around Savage River Station in Denali NP&P seen in early September color

The Sound of Thunder!!

Yet another milestone in my Alaskan adventure occurred this past Monday afternoon when the faint albeit unmistakable sound of distant thunder reverberated through the boreal forest.  This is the first time I’ve heard thunder in my new home and it was most welcome!  If there’s one thing I really miss from my time in the lower 48 its the seasonal presence of thunderstorms in general and severe thunderstorms in particular.  As a very young child I remember being terrified of both lightning and thunder; I actually dreaded the steamy hot July and August evenings in SE Michigan because such weather often brought on thunderstorms.  I’m forever grateful to my father for finally taking me out on the family home’s back porch as a thunderstorm approached and explaining just what was happening; we talked about the genesis of the storm, the lightning being the precursor to thunder and he taught me to estimate the distance to a storm by counting the seconds between a lightning flash and its resultant thunder.  I never again feared thunderstorms and, indeed, grew to absolutely love the phenomena to the point I regularly walked in such storms.  In hindsight probably not the wisest thing to do but I loved feeling the energy and power of the storm all around me.  One time I remember actually feeling a weak electrical shock from a close by strike; I never wear shoes when I walk in such storms as they just become saturated and dead weight.  And on a couple of occasions I’ve smelled ozone from a very close by strike; these events always included that incredible ‘flash-boom’ effect of a truly close lightning strike in which the flash and resultant boom are virtually simultaneous.

Anyway, the thunderstorms I’ve seen up here – mostly on radar or satellite – are pale comparisons to the gully washers of the SE or the incredible towering cumulonimbus of the plains storms but at least they are around.  Indeed, there is now little call for the weather spotter training I cultivated while living in the lower 48.  I still do participate in CoCoRaHS (Community Collaborative Rain, Hail & Snow reporting network) and I have sent in reports of extreme weather to the Anchorage NWS office during a winter storm but I do not expect to do as much in these areas as I did while living in the lower 48.  Yet there’s no shortage of fascinating meteorology up here and I’m in seventh heaven re-learning so much of what I took for granted as ‘immutable knowledge’ regarding the weather.  Weather in the higher latitudes is quite different from that found in the middle latitudes so this a fertile area for learning’s; it’s just a great coincidence that I’m fascinated by meteorology in general.

Another area of great interest to me, and one of which I know little but am working to improve, is that of geology and the physics of earthquakes.  Prior to relocating to Alaska I had minimal experience with earthquakes and found them to be curiosities which might occur every decade or so.  This changed a bit while I was employed with The Clorox Company as its headquarters is in Oakland with its technical center located just a bit further east in Pleasanton; as such I did experience more tremblors while visiting the west coast.  Even so noticeable shifts in the earth were still just a curiosity.  With my relocation to south central Alaska the frequency to which I would experience tremblors has changed dramatically as I’ve felt three very pronounced seismic events since moving up here and that’s been just 10 months.  This past Monday afternoon a magnitude 7.9 event occurred in the Aleutian Island chain which prompted a short-lived tsunami warning; no damage was reported.  While we did not feel anything up here the folks in Anchorage could feel just a bit of that event.  I knew prior to moving up here Alaska was the most seismically active of the fifty states but I had no idea just how active it is; if you’d like to get some perspective visit this website:   http://www.aeic.alaska.edu/recent/macsub/index.html.  It’s run by UAF (University of Alaska Fairbanks) and is the clearinghouse for information on Alaskan seismic activity.  Indeed, a quick perusal of the current data shows 79 events recorded for Wednesday, June 25th as of 12:18 AKDT.  I’ve taken the liberty of pasting a copy of the activity map for June 25th at the end of this piece; it was copied as of 12:32 AKDT.  Granted, most are very small as in the magnitude 1 to 2 range but this still illustrates Alaska can truly be ‘seismically active’.  This is the only place I’ve heard sound associated with seismic activity; back in the winter a magnitude 5.9 event was accompanied by two very loud ‘booms’ which actually awakened my soundly sleeping Alaskan Malamute (Anana).

I guess I could say there’s rarely a dull moment in this amazing state I now call home and I like it this way.  We’re looking at the potential for some heavy rain across the next 12 to 18 hours; we need moisture so it is welcome although it will put a damper on riding my bicycle.  But in true Alaskan fashion I’ll just substitute an extended walk in the rain with the dogs; they don’t mind the rain although they won’t like having to remain in the mud room for a few hours after we return so they can dry off and I can take a couple of shots at removing a bit of that glacial silt and dirt that is ubiquitous to this area.  These kinds of adjustments are becoming almost routine and I like this realization as it means I am definitely becoming an Alaskan!