The end of the winter of 2017-2018 has been full of surprises in terms of snowfall and as the spring begins to take hold yet another surprise has bloomed. After seeing few moose during the fall and winter across the past two weeks this area is suddenly awash in the magnificent mammals! Never have I seen so many moose in such a short period of time and their sudden appearance has made for some ‘interesting’ times.
One of the things I love about Alaska, in general, and this area in particular is the abundance of large mammals. By far and away moose are the most common large mammals although we do see the infrequent grizzly, black bear, fox and wolverine. Moose are common enough that I have developed some habits related to their presence such as ‘jiggling’ the front door knob before opening the door when it is dark outside to give forewarning to the large critters that we are coming out. Even so, I’ve spooked a few moose whom were close to the front porch and decided to freeze rather than move off. The kidz are fascinated by the moose and have largely learned to steer clear of these huge ungulates but will watch them intently. Anana, my Alaskan malamute companion, has even tried very hard to encourage some moose to play. Bless her heart, at times she’s given almost every canine body language signal for play but remains befuddled when the moose do not respond. Sadly, she just doesn’t ‘cog’ to the fact moose have different body language…
Because of their presence I’ve been able to collect a lot of images of these superbly adapted mammals on the local roads and on my property. I can only guess the reason for their sudden appearance is based upon the voluminous snow events of latter February into early March which had given this area a 60” (152.4 cm) snow pack. With the ‘moose of March’ came a string of sunny days with high temps above freezing although overnight lows dropped into the low teens to single digits. This dramatically decreased the snow pack and, in so doing, saturated the remaining snow. With the cool overnight temps the snow will freeze and becoming difficult to walk through although not frozen solid enough to support the weight of a moose. Because of the difficulty in navigating these conditions the moose, being the opportunists they are, have taken to the nicely plowed back roads to travel. This, of course, makes them a lot more visible to we humans.
I’ve amassed a number of images from my recent encounters with these amazing animals; the following are but a few of said images:
I photographed the almost ‘friendly’ moose on East Birch Creek Road while returning from a post office run.
My Alaskan malamute companion (Anana) was a bit too close to this moose just outside my driveway; it let her know it was time to ‘back off!’
I saw this moose from the SE bedroom on the second floor while doing my morning stepping. It napped in this spot for over three hours.
Wide angle image of the same moose as seen from my second floor spare bedroom
A close up of the moose on East Barge Drive almost at my driveway
Almost a moose ‘traffic jam’ on East Birch Creek Road!
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:
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.
Spring ‘sprung’ about two to three weeks early across most of Alaska and with it has come uncharacteristically warm and dry conditions. Many of the locals love the warmth – across the past three days Talkeetna has seen highs running +5 F to +10 F above normal – and are particularly enamored of the lack of mud so common during the spring and break up periods. Indeed, I noticed that across the past couple of weeks driving just 25 mph up and down East Barge Drive produces a dust cloud. In the past such conditions have not appeared until the middle of May if not a bit later. Of course the warmth is just a continuation of the above normal temperature regime Alaska has experienced since the summer of 2013 but now the lack of moisture is becoming a trend as well. As with so much in life, in general, and with Alaskan life in particular this is indeed a double edged sword.
I’ve enjoyed the drought conditions this spring mainly because my two dogs – Anana and Qanuk – are not dragging as much mud and glacial flour based dust into the house. This is a real plus as in previous springs and falls they are often relegated to the mud room for hours after a walk in the hope a bit of the aforementioned detritus might remain on the floor as versed with being carried into the house in general and into my bed in particular. They are not fans of this requirement even though their food and water resides in the mud room. In addition the lack of moisture appears to be slowing the appearance of the annual hordes of blood sucking mosquitoes and no Alaskan will quarrel with such fallout from the dry conditions. If we’re really lucky maybe we’ll see relatively low numbers of the blood thirsty little beggars this season..? One can always hope!
Warmth is something I do not favor but above normal temps have been the rule in Alaska since I relocated in August of 2013. I have been able to leave windows open the last few nights although I have deactivated the Toyo furnace as the early morning lows have been right around the freezing mark. I do this to allow the house interior to drop into the low to middle fifties such that when the sunshine returns and elevates the outside temps into the low sixties the interior of the house rarely climbs above 62 F during the day. Because I spend the winter months living at 60 F anything above 65 F starts to feel warm to me; sadly I am all too aware I will once again have to acclimate to 70 F temps as the season unfolds. One negative I noticed about leaving the windows open for multiple days and nights; this morning I awoke to hear two of my interior fire alarms chirping because the relative cold had caused the battery voltage to drop too much. Still and all it has been a boon to be able to open windows and allow the warm and dry outside air to circulate freely throughout my place.
However, the warmth – especially when coupled to the drought conditions – does have some very potentially negative aspects of which wildfires are probably the most ominous. It seems strange to me that this area could be in a drought when there remain so many lakes, rivers and streams but given this past winter’s snow pack was just 22% of normal and that follows a snow pack of just 30% of normal across the winter of 2013 to 2014 coupled with just 33% of normal precipitation in March and only 20% of average precipitation in April it is no surprise. Sadly we are primed for a bad wildfire season which is based in below normal precipitation in this area across the last year and a half and the well above normal air temps which often foster below normal humidity levels. While most of the locals are cognizant of this potential many of the tourists are not and it takes just one careless camp fire or one smoker flicking a butt from a moving vehicle (why do so many smokers consider the world to be their personal ashtray..?!?!) to ignite a wildfire. By this point the local roadside growth should be greening up but as of yesterday the sides of the Spur remain brown and very dry.
I have often wondered about this immediate area should a wildfire take hold; the village and most of the outlying areas have just one road to get the local populace out of the area – the Spur. And it runs only from the village south to the Parks Highway (aka AK 3); hence it has just one outlet. Should a fire take hold close to the ‘Y’ – our term for the intersection between the Parks and the Spur – many of us could find ourselves cut off from road access to the Parks and the outside world. Sure, we could walk or use ATVs to make the relatively short trek west to the Parks but that would mean taking only the clothes on our backs and our four legged companions. Needless to say this would not be a good situation but it is something all of us need to keep in mind. All the more reason to stay aware of Red Flag Warnings and be vigilant when burning garbage in our burn barrels as it is much easier to prevent a wildfire than have to fight one.
So despite all the pluses this warm and dry weather brings to us it also bears the seeds of potential destruction and, as such, is indeed a double edged sword…
…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):
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:
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!
Although in the grand scheme this winter has been a huge disappointment with it being largely absent during January – the warmest January on record for this area – and present in terms of temps but sans snow in February at least March has brought a change in these conditions. Our snow event across March 4th and 5th deposited 15.4″ of new snow here at Mile 7.1 just east of the Spur and we’ve seen below zero morning temps across the past three days with afternoon highs rising into the middle twenties thanks to the clear skies and rapidly increasing sunlight. Yesterday I walked the dogs in the middle afternoon prior to my evening newscast and found the conditions to be perfect! The sky was that deep cobalt blue which I still associate with Canadian High Pressure in the lower 48 but has no such linkage up here; indeed, the pressure was falling rapidly across Friday afternoon and is all the way down to 29.20″ Hg (988.83 Mb) as I write this at 09:52 AKST on a clear Saturday morning. There was a slight northerly breeze which was unusual but produced a beautiful sound passing through the snow covered pine trees and the air temp was around 25 F. When in the sun I could really feel its warm and immediately recognized the implication that within just a few more weeks it will be strong enough to begin melting snow on clear afternoons even though the air temps remain below freezing.
The dogs were loving every minute of the walk with Qanuk racing well out in front of me only to turn and charge right back at me running full tilt only to turn away at the last second. I saw a multitude of moose tracks and even some scat on the freshly cleared roads but the moose themselves remained out of sight. Even Anana had a puppy-like spring in her step and she regularly tried to keep up with Qanuk but while she’s still the alpha dog when it comes to running Qanuk can literally run circles around her. All in all it was a glorious day for a walk in rural Talkeetna and this time of year is rapidly becoming a real favorite of mine. Sadly its unlikely I’ll get to experience -30 F this winter or see that 36 inches plus of snow pack but there’s always next year!
Qanuk and Anana on Riven Street with the Alaska Range in the distance
Anana looking north up Riven Street