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:

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

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The Spur heading out of Talkeetna cloaked in heavy snow

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Cool sunrise at my place on Sunday, February 12th

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

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

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Anana by the thermometer which is reading much milder temps!

First Snow Of The Season!

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:

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Looking west at a portion of my ‘back yard’ showing the driveway and weather station sensors Friday (10/21/16) morning

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Looking ENE from one of my ‘spare’ bedrooms on Friday (10/21/16) morning; this is my ‘front yard’

Freezing Rain…Alaska Style

I just returned from attempting to walk the dogs and we could only manage 42 minutes not because of the temperature or snow but because of the glaze of ice that’s covering almost everything!  There’s a quarter-inch of frozen glaze atop the remaining foot of now dense, heavy snow pack and even the plowed roads have a coating of ice.  The latter are extremely slippery, at least when on foot or paw, because we received another tenth of an inch or so of snow overnight.  I was really struggling while trying to navigate the frequent rises and dips and often ended up wading through the foot of snow on the sides of the inclines and declines because at least there I had traction!  I was almost continuously out of breath from laughing at the dogs as they slipped, skidded and did face plants on an ongoing basis.  I was also twice forced to stop, corral Qanuk, force him to lie down and remove pieces of the frozen snow that had managed to wedge themselves between his pads and caused him to limp.  Thankfully they were not sharp enough to cut open his pads…

I’m familiar with freezing rain from the lower 48; in general I’ve seen my share in places like Madison (WI), Cincinnati (OH), Chicago (IL) and Dearborn (MI).  And it was all pretty much the same in character; very light rain drops or partially frozen pellets falling at a rate just over a drizzle.  However, having now dealt with two extended periods of Alaskan freezing rain I can definitely state like so many other things its just different up here.  During most of the Alaskan freezing rain events I’ve witnessed the precipitation is liquid to almost graupel-like in nature but it’s falling at a rate akin to a rain shower.  When it does this it takes very little time to lay down a substantial coating of the ice.  A couple of weeks back I had the ‘pleasure’ of driving the Spur during such an episode of freezing rain and it was coming down so hard as to be almost blinding.  Under such conditions even running one’s windshield wipers on high-speed is insufficient to keep the glass clear.  I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise that Alaska does freezing rain in a way that surpasses what I’d seen in the lower 48; this state is indeed a magnet for extremes in most things.  But then again, this is part of the magic and the allure of Alaska for me!

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Icy stretch of East Barge Drive running up Bonanza Hill; even the dogs wanted no part of trying to walk this challenge!

South Central Alaskan Winter…Where Is It?

As the lower 48 endures some of its coldest and iciest winter weather this season Alaska has been mired in some of its mildest weather since our first snow back on November 10th.  While my experience regarding Alaskan winters is virtually zero I can and do read historical data from the past 25 years and the locals are always ready to talk about the weather so I do have some perspective.  The consensus from folks who’ve lived in this area for decades is this has been the warmest and wettest fall in memory; I can add that this fits with the broad weather trends in Alaska for all of 2013.  After all, a myriad of high temp records were set in middle June including a number of all time record high temps such as Talkeetna’s official 96 F (there was an unofficial reading of 98 F on that same Monday – June 17, 2013)!  I’ve already written about the record-setting warmth and especially the copious quantities of rain in September and October which exceeded the average monthly amounts by 202% and 291% respectively.  Yes, we did see a run of perhaps a week around Thanksgiving when the temps were considerably below normal and even dropped into the minus twenty degree range but even with these extremely cold temps I don’t believe November’s average temperature was below the ‘normal’.  Nine days into December our mean temp at Mile 7.1 of the Spur has been 17.7 F; compare this to the normal temp range for early December of 26 F to 10 F.

Talkeetna’s annual ‘Motorized Parade of Lights’ took place last Friday evening (12/06/13) in rain showers even though the surface temps were right at the freezing mark; the big weekend activities like the annual ‘Wilderness Woman Competition’ and the annual ‘Bachelor Auction’ were completed in fog, freezing rain and drizzle.  A local I spoke with on Sunday told me he’s lived here for 27 years and he’s never seen these events happen in anything but snow and cold.  From reading the evening news on Thursdays and Fridays I know numerous events have been cancelled because of the freezing rain and such weather conditions used to be extremely rare in this area.  In fact as I came to know more of my neighbors and would ask their advice for the upcoming winter to a person they warned me that once it starts to get cold winter will come on like a speeding freight train and I shouldn’t expect to see above freezing temps again until April or May.  Contrast this to my recent data showing a mean 24 hour temp of 31.7 F on 12/06, 32.3 F on 12/07 and 32.2 F on 12/08.  Without question this has been a very mild late fall to this point and without question this unusual weather is continuing the trend of warmth and wetness experienced through much of south central Alaska across the summer and fall months of 2013.

I suppose one could make a claim this is further evidence of climate change in terms of global warming; I do have enough of a scientific background to know one warm year does nothing other than go into the stores of data as a single point demonstrating just that…a warmer than normal year.  But I have been visiting Alaska in the late summer to early fall since 1996 and in that time I’ve seen a definite shift towards warmer temps holding on longer into periods which traditionally were a bit cooler.  Given what I’ve experienced and what I’ve read I do not doubt our climate is warming to some extent; I do have issues with the contention it’s all the fault of human beings.  We know little about past climactic shifts except to say they were real, some were devastating, some pushed temperatures up while others depressed them and its a virtual given we will experience such shifts again.  While I certainly wouldn’t disagree humankind has had a definite effect on the world’s climate I’m not ready to state just how much of the apparent warming is due to humanity verses natural geologic or astrophysical routines.  And as warm as its been since I relocated here in early August of 2013 I’m sure as heck not going to predict this will be a ‘warm’ winter; not with the remainder of December, January and February yet to come!