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’…

GunsiteMountainSnow2.jpg

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’.

Timbers-Fog.jpg

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

NL2.jpg

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.

RichardsonHighwaySnow4.jpg

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.

DaltonHighway-Sky.jpg

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.

 

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!!

 

The Adventure Began Two Years Ago!

Indeed, it was two years ago yesterday that my buddy Sarge and I pulled out of the driveway at the rental dive I’d called ‘home’ for two years and started a 4200 mile plus drive to Talkeetna, Alaska.  This marked the culmination of a sixteen year old dream and was one of the most amazing experiences of my – at that time – 59 years.  I’d been prepping for this trip from the time we visited Talkeetna in April of 2013 to locate and purchase a house; even with all this time there were still some harrowing events.  I ended up with a U-Haul van which was too small for my household and we sacrificed a day swapping it for a 26 footer.  Then the local ‘Two Men & A Truck’ outfit sent a team of guys to my place charged only with packing my household but not loading it.  I was not pleased and contacted the office; after much grief I managed to get them to confirm they would send out a new team the next day to actually pack the van.  However, when the team arrived they’d been told they were just to pack my household and only had three hours before another job.  I went ballistic, reamed the outfit and forced them to supply me a team to load the van the next day which was a Saturday but I refused to pay the premium for their efforts.  They managed to do a really crappy job and Sarge and I had to repack maybe a third of the van.  By Saturday evening I was exhausted and angry but looking forward to getting stated.

We left early Sunday (07/29) morning and started the adventure.  I drove my Escape with some stuff, my two canine companions (Anana and Qanuk) and my female Seal Point Siamese (Circe).  After weeks of checking routes, reviewing lodging and services and similar we elected to drive north through Michigan and cross into Canada at Sault Ste. Marie; while this ultimately worked out we did lose two hours getting through Canadian customs.  We drove for almost 12 hours but made it to Marathon, Ontario on the eastern edge of Lake Superior.  From this point onward we averaged around 445 miles/day and needed nine and a half days to finally reach Talkeetna in the early afternoon of day 10.  To be honest the days on the Alaska Highway rarely totaled more than 300 miles driving due to road conditions, the U-Haul van’s issues with the Rocky Mountains and traffic.  If memory serves I believe we averaged maybe 650 miles a day (11 hours driving time) while in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and portions of Alberta but this really dropped off in British Columbia and The Yukon Territories.  The toughest sections were the Alaskan Highway over the Rockies and the last 100 miles of the same road before we crossed into Alaska.

A heartbreaking event occurred during a stop over in Fort St. John, British Columbia which I still feel today.  We found a motel, unloaded the four legged companions and were relaxing for the evening.  Somehow during trips out the door my Siamese managed to slip out.  The next morning I couldn’t find her in the room and was just heartbroken.  As it was 06:30 I couldn’t walk the halls calling her name out loud but I did walk all the hallways looking for her.  I checked with the front desk but no one had seen her.  After spending 90 minutes searching I could do no more mainly because we were on a tight time schedule.  I left the front desk with my cell number, Alaskan address, former vet’s phone number and a picture and sadly started driving.  I never heard a word and to this day I don’t know what happened to her.  I know she hated riding in the car and I’m sure after five days she was fed up and decided to slip out.  As she was a beautiful feline with a wonderful personality I can only hope someone found her and gave her a warm, comfortable home.  I miss her to this day and just writing this is difficult for me!

I’ve included a few images from this trip of a lifetime.  I’d love to do it again but without time constraints and with a trailer or  similar for the dogs.  Maybe I will make this happen…

Crossing the Mackinaw Bridge into the Upper Peninsula of Michigan

Crossing the Mackinaw Bridge into the Upper Peninsula of Michigan

Eastern edge of Lake Superior a bit north of Marathon, Ontario

Eastern edge of Lake Superior a bit north of Marathon, Ontario

Amazing distances in Manitoba, Canada

Amazing distances in Manitoba, Canada

Gorgeous views in the Canadian Rockies

Gorgeous views in the Canadian Rockies

Big Sky in British Columbia, Canada!

Big Sky in British Columbia, Canada!

Yukon Territories buffalo taking a sand bath

Yukon Territories buffalo taking a sand bath

Anana looking out the Escape's window in The Yukon Territories, Canada

Anana looking out the Escape’s window in The Yukon Territories, Canada

Awesome peaks in Kluane Provincial Park located in The Yukon Territories

Awesome peaks in Kluane Provincial Park located in The Yukon Territories

Heading into Destruction Bay in The Yukon Territories, Canda

Heading into Destruction Bay in The Yukon Territories, Canada

The Alaska Highway turns ugly in The Yukon Territories, Canada!

The Alaska Highway turns ugly in The Yukon Territories, Canada!

Gorgeous sunrise in Glennallen, Alaska

Gorgeous sunrise in Glennallen, Alaska

Gorgeous scenery on AK 1 (Glenn Highway) west of Glennallen, AK

Gorgeous scenery on AK 1 (Glenn Highway) west of Glennallen, AK

Inevitable delays on the Alaskan Highway!

Inevitable delays on the Alaskan Highway!

My much beloved Circe; I so miss her..!!

My much beloved Circe; I so miss her..!!

Since So Many Folks Seem To Enjoy Glaciers…

exitglacier-p-distance

This is a shot of the Exit Glacier in Kenai Fjords NP with its run-off in the foreground; the glacier is just a bit north of Seward in the Kenai Peninsula.  It is an alpine style glacier and sadly has been retreating very quickly across the past few decades

Portage Glacier 2

Here is the Portage Glacier which is located in the northern Kenai Peninsula; it is a classic Alpine Glacier

AK 8 Alaska Range w-Glacier

The Alaska Range is full of glaciers and there’s an unnamed glacier sweeping down from The Alaska Range foothills in this image taken from the Paxson end of the Denali Highway (AK 8).  This image was taken in early September of 2002 and although it was snowy and cold in the immediate vicinity of the mountains just getting a few tens of miles to the north or south saw sunshine and air temps in the fifties.

Matanuska Glacier Head On

The toe of the mighty Matanuska Glacier as seen from a school driveway off the Glenn Highway.  This glacier cut the Matanuska Valley which runs for over 100 miles east-west and separates the Chugach Mountains to the south from the Talkeetna Mountains to the north