Three Years & Three Days

The following image was taken during my house hunting trip to Talkeetna across the first full week of April, 2013.  The actual date of the image is April 10, 2013 which corresponds to the day I made an offer on this property.  Notice in particular the snow cover:

15158 E. Barge Front

At that time there was approximately 34″ of snow pack which had increased to 38″ after a snow event the next evening.  I was informed by my realtor and good friend, Holly, that these conditions were pretty typical for early to mid-April in Talkeetna.

Here’s a picture I just snapped maybe fifteen minutes ago.  It is just three years and three days from the date of the previous image.  Without question the difference in the snow pack is both startling and revealing.  Since the winter of 2012-2013, which set records for snow fall across much of Alaska, Talkeetna has seen three consecutive warm and dry ‘winters’ all of which have set records in terms of warmth.

041316

Walking In a ‘Water’ Wonderland

Although it is February 24th in south central Alaska one could be forgiven for being confused when seeing the high temperature break freezing the last eleven consecutive days and huge spans of ice shimmering with liquid water atop their expanses.  Indeed, as I contemplate my second Alaskan winter – and I use the term ‘winter’ loosely – I’m once again forced to realize this has been an even milder and drier ‘winter’ than the record-setting warmth that helped the 2013 – 2014 Alaskan winter enter the books as the warmest on record.  As of this writing Anchorage, 112 miles to the south, is 30” short of ‘normal’ snow fall and with temps forecast to be in the middle to upper 30’s right into the first week in March there’s not much hope for any near term relief.  My own observations show Talkeetna is just 12% of ‘normal’ snow-pack and our ten-day forecast shows no real snow and a lot of temps at or slightly above freezing.

Meanwhile the eastern half of the lower 48 is once again racking up the snow fall totals and seeing some cold weather although nothing like the previous winter’s cold.  It doesn’t escape my notice that the past two winters would have been much more to my liking in terms of snow and cold had I remained in SE Michigan as versed with moving to south central Alaska.  I understand that one or even two ‘winters that weren’t’ does not validate global warming although after having experienced the past 19 months up here I do not doubt that the climate in this portion of the sub-Arctic is warming.  And it is not just this immediate area that’s seeing extreme warmth; witness moving the start of the historic Iditarod race to Fairbanks in search of reasonable snow and cold.  Last week Fairbanks was warmer than places in Georgia!  A few weeks back I saw reports of freezing rain in Deadhorse; my God, that’s on the North Slope up against the Beaufort Sea!!

Most folks in the Lower 48 don’t really understand our situation; we really are hurting when we cannot get snow and this is exacerbated by above freezing temps.  We have a comparatively deep frost line and when we do not get snow in November and most of December but do see seasonable temps this can push that line even deeper.  Then, when we see this absurd warmth coupled with a lack of snow fall, the terrain experiences a lot of melting of what snow and ice exist.  However, because the ground is still frozen solid and is so quite a ways down the accumulated snow and ice doesn’t just melt off and disappear.  Rather, it remains in place and slowly converts to just ice.  When we get drizzle and showers or even the dreaded freezing rain the precipitation that falls doesn’t freeze atop this ice; instead it forms a thin layer of liquid water.  I, for one, know of little else that is more slippery than a thin layer of water atop smooth ice.  Salt is not used on roads in Alaska with the exception of around the Anchorage bowl; gravel is the main treatment but it just turns to mud and eventually runs off the ice in these circumstances.  The paved roads can be repeatedly scraped by the plows and they are usually in good shape.  But the back roads are sheets of ice, as are most parking lots, which become impossible to walk upon because they are so slick.  Just five or six inches of snow atop these conditions would remedy the slippery nature but we just cannot seem to even buy such a minimal snow fall.

So when we Alaskans complain of a lack of snow and cold it is not just out of aesthetic concerns; it can be a matter of our very health.  I heard last May that the Sunshine Clinic in Talkeetna had treated a record number of broken ankles, legs and feet due to these kinds of conditions.  Assuming this was true we could well see another record this ‘winter’.  Without question I will be purchasing a pair of the sandals that have studs driven into the soles before next winter; at least they will give some purchase on the skating rinks we call back roads and parking lots.  But mostly I, and a whole state full of people, would just like to see our ‘normal’ winters return!!

A view of Riven Street looking south towards East Barge Drive; notice the myriad patches of water atop the ice.  Even my Mal Anana had trouble remaining upright!

A view of Riven Street looking south towards East Barge Drive; notice the myriad patches of water atop the ice. Even my Mal Anana had trouble remaining upright!

At the risk of being repetitive…

…where in Heaven’s Name is winter?!?!?  I suppose I should be accurate and ask ‘where is winter in south central Alaska’ although a majority of the state has seen a fairly mild winter to this point.  Apparently northern reaches of the state are actually seeing more typical weather of late; my buddy in Livengood, Alaska (roughly 80 miles NW of Fairbanks) recently spoke of air temps in the negative numbers along with many inches of snow.  I see tomorrow’s high is just -1 F and NWS forecasting 3” to 6” of snow across Tuesday (12/02) night into Wednesday morning.  I’d gladly take such a forecast and be happy even though we should be seeing at least 18” of snow pack by this point.  We did get snow Saturday (11/29); it snowed continually albeit lightly for more than 15 hours yet in my measurements this morning I saw a meager 2.1” of new snow with a ‘snow pack’ of just 2.6” of snow.  I remain amazed I could see 15 contiguous hours of even light snow and still accumulate barely 2” of snow pack…

Here’s a snipped copy of my morning report to CoCoRaHS (Community Collaborative Rain, Hail & Snow):

113014 CoCoRaHS

This report looks much more like those I generated while living in SW Ohio or even SE Michigan when we were lucky to even see accumulating snow during many winters.  I’m beginning to believe I somehow redirect winter weather away from where ever I choose to live!  This sounds like nonsense but you must realize for the four winters I lived in SE Michigan (2009 through 2013) there was almost no snow; the final winter (2012-2013) we totaled just 9” of snow all winter and never saw a temp below 0 F.  I move out in July of 2013 and the next winter sets an all-time record for snowfall at Detroit’s Metro airport and also sets numerous low temperature records during the season.  Meanwhile, Talkeetna has its warmest winter on record as does most of Alaska.  And this year is looking much the same.

I delved back into my weather data collected by my Davis Vantage Pro 2 wireless weather station across the period from November 1, 2013 through February 28, 2014.  I’ve snipped out the monthly synopsis for each month; with the exception of November it’s easy to see it truly was extremely warm up here:

112013

122013

012014

022014

Unbelievable that Talkeetna’s average temp for January 2014 was 25.8 F and its low was just 0.6 F!!!  December and January are the two coldest months up here but you wouldn’t have known that from the above data.  And it appears we’re heading for another such ‘winter that wasn’t’ this year.

Part of the reason I moved to Alaska was to experience five plus months of real winter with feet of snow pack and days of temps never reaching 0 F and dropping into the minus twenties or even minus thirties.  At this juncture to say I’ve been disappointed would be a bit like calling Denali ‘a big hill’!  I realize that technically winter has yet to begin although meteorological winter does start December 1st and runs through March 1st so for all intent and purpose we are now in the winter season.

I certainly hope we see a true shift in our winter back to the more normal temps and snowfall for this area but to this point it doesn’t look good.  If this continues I may have to do the unthinkable and move to Fairbanks or points north just to see an Alaskan winter.  After the grueling move up here from SE Michigan I swore I would never move again yet if I cannot find ‘winter’ here I may just have to swallow that promise and look north.  Alaskans from the further north reaches joking refer to this area as ‘the banana belt’; sadly to this point that moniker is all too accurate!

A Dearth of Snow…

What a difference a year can make at least in terms of weather conditions! Just one year ago today light snow started falling in the early afternoon and continued to build in intensity across the remainder of November 9th and continued snowing moderately right into the early afternoon of the 10th. When the snow fall finally ceased the Talkeetna area saw anywhere from 11” of snow up to 14” with 12” being the average accumulation. This turned out to be the single largest snow event of what is now the history making ‘winter that wasn’t’ of 2013 – 2014. Right up through the first week in November we’d seen well above normal air temps and record-setting precipitation but all in the form of rain except on brief period of snow showers in late October. The mosquitoes actually hung on through all of October and were still biting in early November. What a change from this year when the little blood suckers all but disappeared in middle September but then we saw slightly below normal rain for September and only 30% of the normal 2.90” of precipitation in October. In addition our air temps were slightly below normal for all of September and even more so across October.  While we did see some snow and cold across November and into middle December both January and February set all time records for warmth and we ended up at just 40% of typical snow fall for the season.

So heaven knows it has been plenty cold enough to snow but we’ve just lacked the moisture to this point. And sadly it appears this dry trend is continuing into November. Across the last three weeks we’ve seen many single digit morning lows which is more typical of December and February but the air remains very dry. As such it’s a safe bet to say we will not see a major snow event today or at any time this week. Most of the locals are literally chomping at the bit to see accumulating snow and I’m right there with them! Since early October I’ve seen more and more dog teams out and about pulling ATVs; it’s a safe bet they’d much prefer to be hauling a sled through a ‘white world’. But Mother Nature is just not cooperating with our wishes, at least to this point. After the disappointment of last ‘winter’ I am so hoping to experience a true Alaskan winter this year replete with feet of accumulated snow, temps dropping into the -20 F to -30 F range and some real winter storms. I was told last year that even the aforementioned 12”+ snow fall in early November was just a small snow event and storms producing half again as much snow were not uncommon. I would truly love to see a real storm dump two feet or more across a day or two; that’s more like what I envisioned when I moved up here.

As those of you who follow this blog are aware I love meteorology and have a special love of cold and snow. I knew prior to my relocation I would be giving up almost all my beloved thunderstorms but I was hoping extreme snow and cold would help make up for this loss. Last summer I believe I heard thunder maybe five times and saw lightning once far away against the Talkeetna Mountains; this is a far cry from what I was used to experiencing living in places like SE Michigan, SW Ohio and south central Wisconsin. It is not lost on me that the largest single snow event I experienced occurred in the early 1980’s in – of all places – Greenville, Illinois which is 70 miles ENE of St. Louis. In early February a freak storm dropped two inches of rain before contacting cold air from the plains which switched the precipitation over to snow and in just 16 hours it accumulated 28”! This shut down St. Louis for three days and made national headlines. It just seems odd for someone who has lived in so many much more northerly locations across so many decades.

For now I remain just hopeful that we will eventually see moisture intermingle with our currently cool air and produce snow. I also hope and pray last ‘winter’ was truly the anomaly it was made out to be and we will see a more normal Alaskan winter for the 2014 – 2015 season. Outside it is growing darker as we pick up a southeasterly flow pulling up some moisture from the Pacific Ocean but sadly if we even see any snow today it will be mainly in the form of more snow showers. In the end it’s all up to Mother Nature and she’s already shown me she can be as fickle as the day is long. But I remain hopeful she will slide back into her ‘old ways’ and provide this area with a real Talkeetna winter…

The most snow we've seen this season is pathetically small, at least to this point..!

The most snow we’ve seen this season is pathetically small, at least to this point..!