It’s That Time Of Year…

Warm and dry weather has settled over south central Alaska promising the return of mosquitoes and tourists.  Late last week I killed the first mosquito of the season; it was one of the big, slow and noisy ‘over-winter’ variety but its appearance heralds the first batch of this season’s blood suckers which will be small, quiet and very hungry.  I’ve refilled the propane tank and will most likely setup the ‘Mosquito Magnet’ once the snow disappears.  For the time being it is providing me the fuel to grill on the front porch.  The kidz are reveling in getting out for daily walks with me; previously the roads were too icy and snow covered to safely walk.  I love being able to do at least half my daily 12k+ steps outside in the sunshine and fresh air!  Without question, we are into the winter to spring changeover.

Break up is my least favorite season up here as is true for many Alaskans mainly because water and the associated mud seems to be everywhere!  In this area our mud is composed mainly of gray/brown glacial silt which is extremely fine grained; it clings to the coats of my canine companions until it dries – normally, inside the house – and falls off.  I can tell their favorite resting areas by the accumulation of the floury, gray silt; while it cleans up easily there seems no end to the stuff during this season.  Not all that long ago this area was buried beneath glaciers which slowly retreated towards the Alaska Range to the north and the Talkeetna Mountains to the east grinding up rock as they moved; this explains the abundance of the material.  This glacial flour is also responsible for the clouds of dust lifted by vehicles driving on the unpaved roads; if it is windless this dust can hang in the air for minutes confirming its fine nature.  This also explains why auto manufacturers consider this to be an ‘extreme’ area in terms of vehicle wear and tear; coupled with the snow and cold the dust makes it really hard on mechanical objects.

As the spring intensifies so does the solar radiation; this, in turn, begins to heat the interior of the house with time.  Already it is unusual to awaken to an air temp in the master bedroom below 62.0° F (16.7° C); just a month back I would often arise to a brisk 58.0° F (14.4° C) or cooler.  The slow rise of the internal ambient air temperature is something I encourage in early spring but by late spring I’m already using fans to draw in the cooler early morning air, despite the high humidity, such that the afternoon temps on the second floor aren’t getting too warm.  Almost all my screens are back in place and I’ve even put up some light blocking shields in the master bedroom windows as it is remaining light until 22:45 and we will not see ‘Astronomical Twilight’ again until August 10th.  I would like to learn to sleep with the sun streaming in the windows but to this point I’ve not yet been able to make this happen.  Maybe with the passage of a few more summers..?

This will be the first year I’ll be added routines involving my 2017 R-pod travel trailer; I hauled it back here in September of 2017.  The winterization process was very straightforward and fairly simple; I expect the efforts required to get it ready for use this spring through fall will be equally easy.  With a bit of luck I’ll be able to load up the trailer, pack the kidz in the back seat of the Escape and do some camping in the Kenai Peninsula late April to early May.  With luck this should allow me to avoid the first of the real tourist crush but there’s still a lot of snow in portions of the Kenai so I’ll have to wait and see.  If I cannot get down into that area this spring I will do so come fall.  After all, I didn’t go through the epic journey of hauling the unit from central Montana to Talkeetna just to let it sit!

The moose which were almost ubiquitous just a few weeks back have largely disappeared.  I suspect this is a combination of a much decreased snow pack and the cows heading into the forest to birth spring calves.  This winter was hard on the local moose population as I’ve seen more reports of moose carcasses since February than during any other similar time frame since relocating up here.  There are the remains of a bull just about a half mile east of my place; a neighbor told me of the carcass last week.  It is common to share such knowledge amongst the locals as such situations can and do draw bears as they come out of hibernation.  Learning of the bull’s remains will cause me to alter my early morning walks with the kidz for the next few months; we’ll be walking primarily to the west.  Once the local scavengers have had time to degrade the remains it will again be fine to walk that area with the dogs.

And so the seasonal cycle is once again on display in ‘The Great Land’.  As with all things in life there are positive and negative aspects to this dance but in the long run I still enjoy the season’s shift and am looking forward to leaves again populating the branches of the birch trees and warm summer breezes.  Of course, there will always be the mosquitoes and tourists but that’s all part of life in magnificent south central Alaska… 

Almost Clear Back Roads

A look to the north on Riven showing mainly bare earth with the ubiquitous puddles.

Water Bound EBD

Qanuk contemplates a section of East Barge Drive inundated by snow melt; he is less sure on ice than Anana (my Alaskan malamute)

 

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!!

 

No, I Don’t Live In An Igloo..!

Across the year and a half I’ve been blogging a number of folks have asked about my living quarters; more than a few made jokes about me living in an igloo. Actually the exterior of my place has shown up in a number of my blogs but I thought it might be interesting for some folks to not just see the exterior of my humble abode but the interior as well. This builds on a January 2014 post which showed just a couple of interior images. With this written here are a few images of my much-loved new home seven miles south of Talkeetna:

The front of my place after a good snow; this was taken Christmas Eve of 2013

The front of my place after a good snow; this was taken Christmas Eve of 2013

Christmas morning with 'the Kidz'; we're south of the back of my place clearing the new snow from the sat dish

Christmas morning with ‘the Kidz’; we’re south of the back of my place clearing the new snow from the sat dish

Looking east down the hallway into the mud room and the front door

Looking east down the hallway into the mud room and the front door

The hallway opens into the kitchen with its north facing picture window

The hallway opens into the kitchen with its north facing picture window; that blue towel is blocking the intense summer light which floods in through the glassed in door and the pair of west-facing windows just to the left of the door

The main room with the dining nook off the image to the right

The main room with the dining nook off the image to the right

Aforementioned dining nook; I may well install a wood burning stove in this area come October

Aforementioned dining nook; I may well install a wood burning stove in this area come October

Looking down the steep stairwell; the small rectangle at the bottom is the Toyo fuel oil stove which heats the entire house!

Looking down the steep stairwell; the small rectangle at the bottom is the Toyo fuel oil stove which heats the entire house!

Guest bedroom is on the second floor in the NE corner; there is a similar room but loaded with junk on the SE corner and the master bedroom in the NW corner

Guest bedroom is on the second floor in the NE corner; there is a similar room but loaded with junk on the SE corner and the master bedroom in the NW corner

The tiny office which I've stuffed to the gills!

The tiny office which I’ve stuffed to the gills!

My front porch looking abnormally clean..!

My front porch looking abnormally clean..!

The Escape inside its 'ShelterLogic' enclosure; those are large wind chimes on the left side of the image which hang just outside the front porch but under the eves

The Escape inside its ‘ShelterLogic’ enclosure; those are large wind chimes on the left side of the image which hang just outside the front porch but under the eves

My Canine Companions

It is another rather warm morning here in south central Alaska with mostly cloudy skies and the promise of still more of the same in terms of warm temps and no precipitation across the next week. Given spring officially begins tomorrow mid-afternoon the odds of seeing any honest winter weather continues to dwindle. Sure, we could see a snow event or another few days of much below normal temps but as the sun continues to ride higher and higher in the sky every day all trends are towards the upcoming spring. 

Of late I’ve noticed my female Alaskan Malamute, Anana, has been ‘asking’ to remain outside in the back yard after being let out to take care of business. Her method of communicating this to me is to remain standing or lying down on the back porch after I open the door and allow her pal Qanuk, my male German Shepherd Dog, inside. She is such a good girl and will stay put as long as a moose or similar doesn’t enter her field of view so I often oblige her. Qanuk, being true to his breed, prefers to be close to me and will rarely remain outside longer than he needs to handle his business. Seeing a definite uptick in Anana’s requests while her routine remains largely the same – she, like most other canines, prefers routine in her existence – started me wondering if she was recognizing the winter was waning and with it would come the end of cold and snow. One wonders if there are ‘new’ odors that she now identifies with the coming of spring or is it the string of warmer days? This was her second ‘winter’ – such that it was – but she is plenty observant and smart enough to recognize such signs and remember them after just a year’s exposure. 

Raising both a Mal and a GSD I’ve had ample opportunity to compare and contrast the two breeds which are pretty close to being polar opposites in so many areas. Anana lives to be a member of our pack and the most effective means of disciplining her when she’s broken the rules – and since reaching adulthood at 2 years of age this hardly happens – is to quarantine her away from me and Qanuk when she’s inside. This really makes an impression on her and with her incredible memory the point is always remembered. Qanuk responds to the more conventional verbal dressing down; he lives to please me as well as run and play with mankind’s great creation – at least as far as he’s concerned – the tennis ball. He, too, is a wonderful companion and rarely causes me issues except when he gets excited about going outside. He literally turns into something akin to the Tasmanian Devil we all viewed in the Bugs Bunny cartoons; his excitement is that powerful. While generally a very careful boy inside when truly wound up his big tail will find many things to knock over. However, after almost six years of raising canines most everything that can be broken has either met that fate or has been placed such that they are impervious to doggy tails and hype. Indeed, he gets so excited if we’re going for a car ride I have to command him to ‘tinkle’ before we board; otherwise in his excitement he’ll forget and then he becomes very anxious once in the car. Never before have I seen a canine that has to be commanded to empty his bladder before car rides but then Qanuk is a unique canine in many respects. 

As Talkeetna is known as a ‘dog village’ – witness no leash laws even in the village itself – my canine pals are in a great place and the fact that we’re surrounded by boreal forest and live semi-rural is generally a plus for them. I say ‘generally’ because Anana does miss being around so many different people; in Dearborn (MI) while I was caring for my folk’s place I fenced in the back yard and gave her the run of that area. She very quickly developed a string of neighbors whom during walks would stop by the fence and greet her often with treats. She was a true ‘rock star’ at the Northville (MI) Sunrise Assisted Living Facility and she owned the title ‘visiting therapy dog’ because she was so friendly and willing to interact with any of the residents. In general Anana loves anything on two legs and I’ve often said she would let any human into the house and probably help carry out any of my stuff if asked. It’s this love of humans that makes Mals ineffective watch dogs and Anana lives up to this breed trait in spades! Since relocating here she no longer has a neighborhood of folks to visit her and as there are no assisted living facilities at which I can volunteer she doesn’t have that means to greet new folks. In this sense she may not be all that pleased with our new home. Of course this is a dual edged sword as up here she can roam free and rarely has to deal with a lead. She has virtually endless acres of boreal forest to explore and handfuls of moose to chase. I do try to get her into the village fairly often and allow her to wait for me outside the PO where she eagerly greets the locals. 

Poor Anana cannot understand why every human doesn’t respond to her as she does to them with affection and love. She doesn’t understand that at 115 pounds she is a very big girl and although she is truly a teddy bear even I, with my love for and understanding of canines, would initially be wary of her if I didn’t know her. I’ve seen folks literally tremble with fear when she runs up and looks for attention; she just cannot believe any human wouldn’t love her like she does them. Qanuk, on the other hand, is very cautious around new people and remains to this day very nervous around adult males. The latter is completely my fault in terms of his socialization. I brought Qanuk into our pack while volunteering at Sunrise and once he was old enough to get control of his needs I started bringing him into the facility with Anana. Such facilities are staffed by almost entirely women. I never realized that because of this and Qanuk’s nature he became ‘okay’ with women but drew a very real line between the genders and hence never really came to know adult males outside myself and my brother. To this day he is very cautious around adult males and children; the latter I could understand as he saw very few while maturing. I do not want him to be so concerned about adult males and hence am beginning to introduce him to as many adult males as possible in the hopes I can socialize him a bit more towards males. He is fine with women but then in Sunrise that was almost all he saw. 

I expected Anana to really revel in her new Alaskan home especially during the winter but much to my surprise Qanuk has been the one to really take to pounding through the deep snow. Anana is smarter in that she allows Qanuk to cut a trail and then she will often follow. Given her height and build she fares better in the snow when the depth is over 18” but Qanuk is still the one I see pounding through the virgin snow. Some of Anana’s reticence to broach deep snow might be based on my poor ‘little’ angel suffering two major surgeries within 6 months of each other.  At the age of just two she blew out her right knee and required a TPLO (Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy) which is a serious surgery in which the tibia is broken and leveled and then reattached via a plate and screws. The injury is the equivalent to tearing an ACL in a human being. She required a full six weeks to recover from the worst effects of the operation and she really never completely recovered until we moved up here. Then, six months later she blew out her left knee and had the same procedure; this time I knew what to look for and caught it early so there was less damage but it was still six weeks of Hell for her. Luckily my vet recommended a fantastic surgeon and he really worked wonders. In all the two procedures cost me just over $8,000 but given it was my companion I would’ve paid many times that amount as the only other option would’ve been to put her down. I’d say she recovered maybe 95% of her original abilities which is incredible given the severity of the procedures. For anyone in SE Michigan needing a wonderful animal surgeon I cannot recommend Dr. Kyle Kerstetter (www.michvet.com) enough; he and his team were incredible! As I’ve often kidded thanks to him I own ‘The Eight Thousand Dollar Dog’! 

As we approach the seasonal shift I am once again looking forward to being able to get out with my canine companions. I’ve come to realize that my walks in this magnificent land are enhanced by my canine companions; they function as extensions to my ears and my nose. I love to see either or both of them stop suddenly and raise their muzzles skyward as their noses work overtime to identify a scent. They almost always see wildlife before I do and I suspect this is largely based upon their hearing coupled with their incredibly sensitive noses. More than once they’ve shown me scat, kill sites and similar I’d have never noticed without their help. They truly enhance my outdoor Alaskan experiences and it is just great to have a couple of pals along on outings. 

They are both indoor dogs so we spend lots of time inside; both have adapted wonderfully to living in a human’s ‘lair’ and they’ve had to learn a lot of rules. Anana has never raided the garbage can and Qanuk has only done so twice; he’s learned to steer clear of this by watching Anana. Never have I known canines who wouldn’t raid a garbage can when it smells of meat, fish or chicken. They have their favorite spots; for Anana it’s the coolest place while Qanuk just wants to be someplace he’s comfortable but can see me. Anana sleeps by my bed but Qanuk sleeps in it maybe half the night.  He’s actually very ‘civilized’ in that he doesn’t steal the blankets or take more than half the bed. I’ve never fed them from the table so they know not to bother me when I’m eating but I do give them infrequent table scraps as a treat. 

All told I couldn’t ask for two better canine companions and my new life in Alaska has been immensely enriched by their presence. They are truly my family now that my sister and brother live thousands of miles to the south. Up here everyone has at least one dog so they helped me integrate into the community by meeting other people and their dogs.  And I rely on their incredible senses while outdoors as they can sense natural events and wildlife much sooner than me.  We’re all aging and our needs are shifting but to this day all they ask of me is shelter, food, a bit of attention and some play; I get back endless unconditional love, the very definition of ‘agape love’, and the companionship generated by another organism who truly does love to just be around me! Talk about a ‘win-win’ situation…

Anana and Qanuk playing in fresh snow early in January, 2015

Anana and Qanuk playing in fresh snow early in January, 2015

Anana at around twelve weeks of age.  Even then I could see the mischievous glint in her eyes!

Anana at around twelve weeks of age. Even then I could see the mischievous glint in her eyes!

Qanuk at around eight weeks of age

Qanuk at around eight weeks of age

Anana and Qanuk playing; Anana was always very gentle with him until he reached puberty

Anana and Qanuk playing; Anana was always very gentle with him until he reached puberty

Qanuk and Anana on East Barge Drive in early September

Qanuk and Anana on East Barge Drive in early September

'The Kidz' are playing tough!

‘The Kidz’ are playing tough!

Qanuk and Anana braving 16" of fresh snow; they really love Alaskan winters!

Qanuk and Anana braving 16″ of fresh snow; they really love Alaskan winters!

My poor 'little' angel finding some comfort in my bed after returning home from her second TPLO surgery

My poor ‘little’ angel finding some comfort in my bed after returning home from her second TPLO surgery

An incredible adaptation to Arctic cold, the Mals grow thick fur that sprouts from between their pads when it begins to cool down.  This remains all winter and then disappears with warming temps.  I'm sure this gives the pads protection against ice and very cold temps.

An incredible adaptation to Arctic cold, the Mals grow thick fur that sprouts from between their pads when it begins to cool down. This remains all winter and then disappears with warming temps. I’m sure this gives the pads protection against ice and very cold temps. Nature is just so awesome..!

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.

Condensation, Cold and Mold

With the beginning of the New Year Talkeetna and its immediate environs have seen a switch from above normal temps to those which even the locals would find a bit on the ‘cool’ side. Yesterday (01/03) we never reached 4.0 F (-15.6 C) and just at sunrise this morning – which occurred at 10:24 AKST or 19:24 UTC – we bottomed out at -8.3 F (-22.4 C). As a broad generalization Talkeetna ‘expects’ to see high temps around 19.2 F (-7.1 C) and lows around 0.9 F (-17.3 C). Based on this you can see we’re a bit on the cool side although for me it just feels great! Anana and Qanuk cannot get enough of these temps although I have to time Qanuk’s exposure as when it’s 0 F (-17.8 C) to -10 F (-12.2 C) he should have no more than 40 minutes of exposure as even his tough GSD pads will begin to crack and bleed. One of the local mushers gave me a tip on some cream and thus far it seems to be really helping the poor boy but I still must be wary when the air temp is below zero.

One of the less pleasant issues with which I’ve had to grapple involves the build-up of condensation on the interior of the windows when the temps do drop below 25 F (-3.9 C). Understand my place has double pane glass in all the windows and this does a reasonable job of insulation; without question I really need triple pane glass and I’m looking into options to make this happen. But once I see outdoor temps drop much below 25 F (-3.9 C) the condensation really does begin to accumulate. As I have wooden window frames having water pool on the frames for any period of time is not good! I have played around with numerous methods in an attempt to decrease this condensation with very little luck. I have an inquiry into UAF (University of Alaska Fairbanks) which has a world renown department on building insulation regarding any suggestions. For now I’m reduced to using a sponge on a daily basis to try to manage the moisture. I’ve also tried laying out strip of highly absorbent material along the glass/window frame interface; this works but requires the material be wrung out every day. In addition when it is below zero the material gets trapped on the windows frame by ice and cannot be removed.

But the buildup of condensation has another negative consequence which can be even more destructive in the short term; mold quickly grows on the spots where the condensation pools. Because of the extremely low angle of the sun this time of year the naturally anti-microbial properties of sunlight cannot hit the corners of the windows where the mold loves to grow. And this stuff must be ‘Alaskan mold’ as it thrives at temps right down to 32 F (0 C) and can withstand being frozen in water for weeks yet still emerge viable once the ice melts. The stuff is the classic ‘green/black’ mold which I immediately associate with Rhizopus nigrificans; however, this stuff is definitely a psychrotroph and R. nigrificans is not so my next guess is some form of Aspergillius. If I had access to my old micro lab from 30 years back I could ID the beggar within a week. I am planning to see if API test strips can be purchased for ID’ing molds; if so I’ll be getting some. Anyway, whatever the stuff is it has no issue growing stoutly at freezing temps and hence it spreads out even in the cold. I’m trying a 20% chlorine to 80% water solution in spray form but thus far this hasn’t been effective; next step is to increase it to a 50% solution.

Having come from the lower 48 I was much more aware of trying to keep moisture in the air during the winters; this was caused by the prevalence of forced air heating. As the standard in Alaska is fuel oil via a Toyo stove or wood stove the air doesn’t get a chance to dry out like that run through a gas furnace and hence retains a much higher relative humidity. I remain impressed to this day as to the amazing differences I’ve encountered in such seemingly simple things like interior humidification and condensation formation when comparing the lower 48 to Alaska. Without question things are ‘different up here’ and I continue to learn just how different they can be! The following are some images pertinent to this posting:

Icy window glass with mold in the corner; outside air temp -7.7 F

Icy window glass with mold in the corner; outside air temp -7.7 F

The yellow is a highly absorbent felt like material which has become frozen to the window; outside air temp -7.7 F

The yellow is a highly absorbent felt-like material which has become frozen to the window; outside air temp -7.7 F

Just rising sun illuminates a south facing window and highlights the amount of condensation followed by ice at the edges; outside air temp -7.7 F

Just rising sun illuminates a south facing window and highlights the amount of condensation followed by ice at the edges; outside air temp -7.7 F

The result of closing off the NE bedroom on the second floor and an outside temp that never reach 0 F for two days and dropped to -23 F at night.  The ice in the corner was 0.6 inches (15.24 mm) thick!

The result of closing off the NE bedroom on the second floor and an outside temp that never reach 0 F for two days and dropped to -23 F at night. The ice in the corner was 0.6 inches (15.24 mm) thick!

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!