After a very slow and mild start to the winter season in south central Alaska the last couple of weeks have done wonders in catching up with more ‘normal’ conditions. We went from no snow pack on Thanksgiving Day – the first time in six such holidays I saw no snow on the ground – to a 21.5 inch (54.6 cm) snow pack as of this morning with more light snow coming down. As is typical for the this area – for those wondering I live around 7 miles (11.3 km) south of the village of Talkeetna and maybe 0.5 miles (0.8 km) east of the Spur Road – our recent snow events have seen calm conditions which allows the new snow to really accumulate on any almost horizontal surface. This makes the trees and brush look gorgeous sporting a thick layer of pristine, white snow.
Our weather conditions are much closer to what we should be seeing in early to middle December although there remains a rock hard 0.5 inch (1.27 cm) layer of ice atop the ground from earlier bouts of freezing rain and rain. I’m pleased no end as I feared with the existing El Nino and that warm pool of water remaining in the north Pacific we might well see yet another ‘winter that wasn’t’. Even so we have yet to see a real Alaskan snow event; one in which over 12 inches (30.5 cm) is dumped within a 24 hour period. To this point the most snow I’ve measured in a 24 hour period was 8.8 inches (22.4 cm) on December 3rd. I miss the truly heavy snowfalls I did experience the first few winters up here; they are truly a beautiful event at least as long as one doesn’t have any commitments requiring driving until the roads are plowed.
However, I’m not complaining as I have also seen a couple of winters when we struggled to even reach a 21 inch (53.3 cm) snow pack. As the snow continues to fall as I write this I suspect we’re probably closer to seeing a 22 inch (55.8 cm) snow pack and our forecast is calling for on again/off again snow across the next week along with some more seasonal (i.e. ‘colder’) air temps. The dogs are loving the weather as well; Delilah, my mostly ‘Russian Bear Dog’ – more properly known as a ‘Caucasian Shepherd Dog’ – truly loves the snow and I often see her both rolling in it and hunkering down next to snow drifts. Qanuk, my German Shepherd Dog, has always loved snow and he really enjoyed running through the couple inches of new snow during this morning’s walk. Even little Skye, the mix I’m currently fostering, was having great fun running through the snow and attacking Delilah and Qanuk from hiding places created by snow piles. We’re all snow and cold lovers so this season is made for us!
I’ve included some images showing the difference in the outside conditions between Thanksgiving Day and this morning as well as some shots of the ‘winter wonderland’ that’s the Talkeetna area when it snows. Here’s wishing everyone a wonderful holiday and, as I know Qanuk, Delilah and Skye would agree, ‘let it snow, let it snow, let it snow..!!’
Thanksgiving Day 2018…plenty of ice but where’s the snow..?!?
The same view but around 21 days, and 21+ inches of snow, later…
Deep accumulated snow underscores the lack of wind!
Delilah, Skye & Qanuk at play!
Early AM Snow with Skye’s butt visible in lower left corner…
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’.
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
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:
A view of my Escape’s dash showing a fairly cool Saturday morning in ‘downtown’ Talkeetna
The Spur heading out of Talkeetna cloaked in heavy snow
Cool sunrise at my place on Sunday, February 12th
Anana and Qanuk enjoying a brief burst of heavy snow outside our place
A very snowy afternoon on East Barge Drive with Anana (center of image) just disappearing into the snow
Anana by the thermometer which is reading much milder temps!
Maybe ten days back I decided to take a brief morning walk along East Barge Drive which is the dirt road, now finally snow packed, that runs by my place. Given the time – around 08:30 – it was naturally pitch black and the recent overcast prevented seeing any light from the waning moon. The air was crisp but not terribly dry and there was no wind. Given the air temp was 4.8° F, and this was warm after seeing -12.5° F yesterday morning, I was quite comfortable in my layered outer wear.
We have a 14.25″ snow pack and thanks to little wind across the past two weeks all the trees are cradling many inches of light, fluffy snow on their limbs and boughs. I love this situation as the already extremely quiet environment is even more silent as the snow in the trees really does create barriers to sound propagation. In addition, I’ve always loved the ‘creeeeak’ created by compressing extremely cold snow. In this morning’s case the snow had just been subjected to over 24 hours of below zero air temps and hence was very cold. With each step my boots created what sounded like an extremely loud ‘creeeeak’ but said sound was almost immediately quieted by the conditions.
The ole homestead in light snow
Normally I wouldn’t take a walk with the kidz in dark conditions because of the potential to wander upon moose without seeing them from a distance. I decided to wear my headset lamp which was a first for me. Within a couple of years of living up here I noticed almost all the locals had a head lamp of some kind; given this I purchased one back in early 2015. I’d used it when working outdoors during dark times but never actually used it to take a walk. I was thoroughly enjoying seeing my small light beam bounce along as the snow creaked beneath my boots and my breath just hung in cold air. Many times I would just stop, turn off the head lamp and enjoy the calm silence. During one of said stops the overcast produced a small gap which allowed the moon to briefly shine through. The effect was breathtaking as the surroundings literally flashed with bright white light yet everything remained dead quiet. I guess given the incredible flare of moonlight I expected some sound..? Seeing this literally took my breath away and I struggled to get my pocket camera free from my vest pocket which was inside my Eddie Bauer rain jacket. Just as I did manage to pull it free the clouds once again occluded the moon and I was standing in darkness with the kidz milling around me no doubt wondering why ‘Dad’ had suddenly stopped.
For the remainder of the walk I reflected upon that event; the amazing timing and series of events that had to coincide for that one moment to occur. I had to be out walking in the dark and decide to turn off my headlamp at just the right time to allow my eyes to adjust to the darkness before that small gap in the overcast moved so perfectly aligned to allow me to catch the full power and beauty of the just now waning moon on the snow covered landscape. Such a myriad of ‘ifs’ that all fell together to create such an incredible sight! In turning this over and over in my mind I realized far too often I just perceive such wonders without giving any thought as to their genesis. In a way I am becoming somewhat jaded reading the majestic scenery of Alaska and that pains me. There is so much wonder and beauty – not just in ‘The Great Land’ but everywhere on our earth and in the heavens around us – everywhere if we are willing to just take a bit of time, absorb the wonder and then reflect upon it if only for a few seconds.
A ‘cool’ afternoon looking west down East Barge Drive; the temp is -8.2° F (-22.3° C)
As you approach the Christmas holiday – or whatever holiday you may be celebrating – please take just a bit of time when something truly extraordinary occurs to consider its genesis and really appreciate its beauty. And make a special effort to do this with family and friends! None of us knows how much time we have remaining to us on this plane so we honestly do not have the time to become jaded or dulled to the wonder around us. And, again, that goes double when interacting with our family and friends. Here’s wishing everyone out there the very Merriest of Christmases and the Happiest New Year yet! And the same to those celebrating different seasonal holidays. We all need to try to live more ‘in the moment’ because in the end that’s all we really can claim…
The Alaska Range awash in Alpenglow taken from the overlook just south of the village of Talkeetna
The ole Homestead the day before the Winter Solstice always looks better with a foot plus of snow!
First off, let me offer up my sincere hopes that everyone out there has the very Merriest of Christmases and the best New Year – or whatever holiday you may celebrate – yet! I apologize for being ‘incommunicado’ of late; the demands of this season coupled with a thorough lack of creative spirit and two weeks spent fighting the ‘disease de jour’ ravaged my blogging. With a bit of luck I should get back into the saddle after New Year’s. I’ve missed sharing some of my thoughts and perceptions with you all but hopefully I will right that issue come January. In the interim please stay happy, healthy and safe! And if you are so blessed, spend as much time as possible with family and friends. We never know how much time we have remaining to us so often it is best to treat each new day like the treasure that it is; after all, it could be our last..!
A cold albeit colorful afternoon sky down south at the intersection of the Spur and the Parks Highway (aka ‘The Glenn Parks, AK 3, etc.) also know by the locals as ‘the ‘Y’…
It is another deep winter sunrise this Christmas Eve morning and I’m enjoying the slowly increasing light as viewed through the thick layer of condensation on the base of my office window. With an external temperature of -9.9°F (-23.3°C) such condensation on double pane window glass in this area is typical although getting a fire going in the new wood stove will help dry out my humble abode and minimize the condensation. We have not seen double digit outdoor temps since December 20th so it has been a bit cool of late here in Talkeetna.
While staring out my window and marveling at the beauty of the below zero landscape I was reminded of some concerns voiced by some of my well-meaning friends regarding spending the ‘holidaze’ with only the ‘kidz’. In particular one friend was actually worried about me which I found touching but also a waste of her concern. This started me thinking about the whole ‘holidays with family and friends’ routine and why some folks cannot imagine spending said times alone while others find it preferable. I most likely fall in between these two extremes with a definite leaning towards the latter.
I acknowledge the historical preference to spend the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays with family and friends and, indeed, for the first forty years of my life I was always with at least my parents and sometimes one or more siblings. But as families ‘age’ there is a tendency to move apart; many develop families of their own and in addition being part of the ‘working world’ limits the amount of time many folks can devote to holiday travel. Add to this the grief involved in just basic air travel and I do not find it surprising that it becomes more difficult for families to gather. But what led me to spend my holidays solo was first the separation of our family; my sister and family live in Monument (CO) which was far away from Dearborn (MI) where my folks lived. My brother lived in Chicago but largely remained incommunicado by his own choice. A bit later on as my folks aged they really didn’t observe the ‘family gathering’ piece; they preferred to attend their church services, mingle with friends but largely avoid a lot of holiday gatherings. After they passed I sometimes spent the holidays with friends but slowly began to just remain by myself. This was accentuated by the fact I rarely had a ‘significant other’ in my life and also had no children.
Everyone has read stories of ‘poor’ or ‘unfortunate’ people who are alone at the holiday season when they so pine for companionship and cheer; given there are so many I can only assume this does happen. But not everyone who is ‘solo’ is lonely or would prefer companionship. I am quite comfortable spending the holidaze with just my canine companions; during some of the past holidays I’ve attended meals at the local VFW but for the most part I truly prefer to be solo and comfortable. As my weight has become more of an issue with age I am much happier avoiding the calorie laden albeit delicious holiday cuisine. And I am able to better maintain the routines my canine companions so prize when it is just us.
It is not that I’m a ‘Grinch’ or someone who hates the holidays; quite the contrary as I truly enjoy the feeling of joy that permeates the atmosphere along with the fun in wishing folks a ‘Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year’. Rather, I prefer to celebrate them in my own way which is on a much lower key than the fondly remembered huge family gatherings around a table almost bowing under the weight of all the delicious food. And I always take a bit of time to honestly remember ‘the reason for the season’.
I truly do understand that some people cannot imagine being alone across the holidays and they extend their own discomfort to anyone who is solo; they want only to have everyone be happy and a part of the festivities. But there are a lot of us folks who really do prefer to be by ourselves during the holidays and it is not for any dark or sad reason; we just prefer it. Ultimately such people are far more comfortable spending the holidays in relative quiet and calm. They are mostly what I call ‘un-holiday people’ and I count myself among them. Again, we don’t hate the holidays; we just prefer to celebrate them in a different fashion.
So to all you well-meaning ‘holiday people’ I would ask this; please step back and think just a bit before you become overly concerned for someone spending Thanksgiving and/or Christmas alone. It is entirely possibly they prefer it that way…
With the onset of the UN sponsored meetings in Paris covering climate change once again the ‘news’ – and I use this term very loosely – is abuzz with the gamut of views from outright denial to fanatical following. I have made my own beliefs around this topic clear in previous postings; I concur that the earth’s climate appears to be warming but I remain very unsure as to what part human beings have played in this scenario especially as versed with how much of this change stems from some naturally occurring geologic pattern or meteorologically based shifts. And I remain uneasy about the massive programs so many countries want to undertake in an attempt to cut greenhouse gas production; my unease stems for the simple fact regardless of what ‘science’ claims to know regarding the evolution of the earth we still have almost no understanding of long term climate cycles on our planet let alone the rhythms and influences of things like solar output cycles and shifts in the earth’s magnetic field. This entire topic remains one of the most hotly contested battlegrounds today and that is because this topic was among the first to have factual information distorted almost constantly by polar opposite ideologies and political influences. In this sense once more our lame-stream media has failed to do its job and has, indeed, done more to muddy the waters than offer any clear, concise perspectives into the climate change concerns. More than anything else we need to get worthless politics out of the scientific realm and allow science as done by scientists to continue to research this scenario.
I understand that one or two or even three years does not a trend establish and this is exceptionally true regarding weather patterns which require data from hundreds of years to even begin to substantiate a ‘trend’ yet I must admit to having seen a definite warming in the Alaskan conditions during my 27 months of living in semi-rural south central Alaska. While the increase in warmth has been observed across the calendar year it is most noticeable in our winters. A case in point has been November of 2015; we started off the month with the ongoing slightly above normal temps but we soon began to see multiple snow events which dropped around 26” (66.04 cm) of snow before a brief albeit strong cold spell settled in. As it began to mitigate we saw another snow event which dropped around 12” (30.48 cm) of new snow in this area. But right on its heels came the dreaded warm up; we saw 78 consecutive hours during which we never dropped to 32.0°F (0.0°C) and across one of those days I measured 1.19” (3.02 cm) of rain. This period decimated the 35.2” (82.55 cm) of snow pack reducing it to just 15.5” (39.37 cm) of saturated snow which with the return of more seasonable temps has now turned to slippery, rock hard ice.
While I have no long term history in this area I have spent many hours perusing the data compiled by NWS and other agencies so I do have some feeling for what a ‘typical’ Talkeetna winter has involved across the last 60 to 75 years. In addition I’ve spoken at length to many locals who have spent decades if not their entire lives in this area. Without question the general consensus is the winters of 2013 to 2014 and 2014 to 2015 were extremely warm and fairly dry. This is borne out by NWS records showing the winter of 2014 to 2015 was the warmest on record for most of Alaska with the previous winter a very close second. In my mind there are two main contributors to these mild seasons; the warmth of the northern Pacific Ocean which is currently 2°F (0.56°C) above its normal temperature and the record sized El Nino off the coast of South America. It is not just the existence of these events but the effects they have on so many other factors like air density, moisture content, prevailing winds and the Jet Stream to name but a few. While many of these areas have been studied for quite a while we still lack a true understanding of why El Nino generally causes more winter moisture in California while decreasing the moisture in the Midwest. We infer these deductions by reviewing the data collected but any attempts to explain the mechanisms by which these scenarios occur remain just theories.
And herein lies the real challenge to so many of the statements made by ‘learned’ men regarding the climate change situation; all are based on inference and/or logical positivism. While correlations drawn from reputable datum can be powerfully persuasive they remain just that: correlations or inferences which cannot be stated as completely factual without also understanding how and why they occur. Sadly so it is with so much of what has been presented to the world in general and to the American public in particular. Yet somehow the very functions which should be recognizing these situations and delving more deeply into their basis and foundation – the so called ‘Fifth Estate’ or the news media – have instead anointed the climate change believers ‘those who understand’ while writing off anyone who has doubts as being deluded, living in denial or similar vitriolic nonsense. Once again, this is what happens when politics are allowed to enter into the scientific realm. It doesn’t take a genius to understand that so many researchers rely on outside funding to continue their work of which the federal government is prominent as are the large, multi-national corporations. Politics embody having an agenda and when this mingles with the funding from such major contributors the push to support said agenda cannot be denied. This, in turn, can and does lead to results which are not ‘acceptable’ being quashed in favor of those in agreement with the funding body’s agenda. And suddenly science is no longer ‘science’…
So once more I find myself railing against the intervention of politics into pure scientific research; it is fraught with powerful potential negatives and I cannot find one positive in so doing. Far too many of today’s pressing issues are of enough import we cannot allow the ongoing research to be influenced regardless of the results. But ‘we the People’ continue to allow this to happen as though it is the way it has always been which is not true. The United States should be taking the lead in pushing for independent means of financing research free from governmental bodies or the deep pockets of giant corporations. And the heretofore useless lame-stream media should be doing their job and questioning all results, not just those that do not agree with their agendas!