Sorry For The Recent Disappearance!

home-in-sparkling-snowfall

The ole Homestead the day before the Winter Solstice always looks better with a foot plus of snow!

First off, let me offer up my sincere hopes that everyone out there has the very Merriest of Christmases and the best New Year – or whatever holiday you may celebrate – yet!  I apologize for being ‘incommunicado’ of late; the demands of this season coupled with a thorough lack of creative spirit and two weeks spent fighting the ‘disease de jour’ ravaged my blogging.  With a bit of luck I should get back into the saddle after New Year’s.  I’ve missed sharing some of my thoughts and perceptions with you all but hopefully I will right that issue come January.  In the interim please stay happy, healthy and safe!  And if you are so blessed, spend as much time as possible with family and friends.  We never know how much time we have remaining to us so often it is best to treat each new day like the treasure that it is; after all, it could be our last..!

cold-afternoon-at-the-y-cu

A cold albeit colorful afternoon sky down south at the intersection of the Spur and the Parks Highway (aka ‘The Glenn Parks, AK 3, etc.) also know by the locals as ‘the ‘Y’…

 

 

 

 

South Central Alaska Seasonal Shuffle

Outside My Office Window 091014

Fall colors in the boreal forest that make up my ‘yard’

After a warm 2016 right through the end of summer, along with a mix of dry late winter and early spring months followed by some very wet summer months, this fall has started off a bit cool which has stoked my hopes for my first ‘real’ Alaskan winter across 2016 – 2017.  I was warned by my neighbors when I first moved up here that winter can, and does, come on quickly and sometimes October sees some serious snow and cold.  In checking the history of October snows in Talkeetna I find the month averages 26.67 cm (10.5”); since relocating in 2013 I’ve seen no more than a dusting of snow in any of the following Octobers.  Maybe this year the weather will revert to more normal temperatures and precipitation..?  One can only hope!

I’ve noticed the gleam in my Alaskan malamute’s (Anana) eyes and the spring in her step with the advent of the repeated hard freezes we experienced last week; she is true to her breed and loves the cooler temperatures of the fall and winter up here.  Five of the last six mornings have seen temps drop to below -2.2° C (28° F); this morning we failed to do so only because of cloud cover and drizzle.  With this said I’d forgotten how cold drizzle/rain can be up here when the air temp is getting close to the freezing mark.  Thanks to said cold rains and some wind 90% of our fall color now carpets the ground; as is typical it was ‘short and sweet’ once again this year.  My male GSD (Qanuk) doesn’t care much about the air temps as long as he can get outside and run; this does become problematic when the air temps drop much below -17.8° C (0° F) but I’ve learned to limit the time he exposes his paw pads to such conditions.  I now have to carry leads for ‘the kidz’ when we take walks because the mushers are out with their teams pulling ATVs.

With the advent of the cooler air I find myself once again preparing for what I’ve come to know as ‘the fall routine’.  This aggregate of necessary activities has been growing each year I’ve lived in semi-rural south central Alaska and has additional items new for the fall of 2016.  There’s the ritual shuffle of items between the unattached shed and the mudroom; my battery charger/starter comes from the shed to the mudroom as does any other equipment I may need to access during the winter since every year thus far the snow pack has been sufficient to block the shed door and require shoveling to access.  The Toyo Monitor furnace checked out just fine and has been running now for six straight days; I do not recall having to do this until early to middle October in the previous falls.  The now almost seven month old gasoline in the two five gallon Jerry cans will be emptied into the gas tank of my Escape and I will refill them, and add a bit of ‘Sta-bil’, within a week.  This ensures that should the power fail I’ll have clean and ready gasoline for the generator.  I’m also trying something new this year; said generator normally sits on the front porch just outside the front door.  Given it is wheeled I plan to unhook the output power line and wheel the unit into my mudroom from November through February when it is really cold.  If I lose power during that time I need only wheel it back out to the front porch, hook up the transfer line and fire it up.  The real plus will involve the latter; it will be at least 12.8° C (55° F) and so should start very easily.  More than once in previous winters I really struggled trying to start the generator when the air temp was well below -17.8° C (0° F).

Time also to lock the windows closed and put up any ‘heat barriers’ in the upstairs ‘spare’ bedroom windows to keep their room temp air from dropping into the single digits Celsius (middle forties Fahrenheit) during cold streaks.  As is common in a house which started as a cabin and grew over time there is no good circulation into any of the second floor rooms although I did open a hole in the master bedroom floor and embedded a fan which I can reverse as needed to either pull the warmer main floor air (said hole is right over the Toyo Monitor) into the bedroom or push the cold air near the floor down into the main room.  I’ve already unhooked and coiled my water hose; it is stored in the shed.  In addition I just removed the last of my window light barriers in the master bedroom; for me this is one of the cardinal signs the fall has arrived.  I’ve pulled together all my cameras and camcorders, cleaned them of the summer’s dust and fully recharged their respective batteries in hopes of being able to catch some auroral shows this winter; I’ve done the same with my headlamp batteries.  I’ve tested the crawl space heater to insure it is functioning; while it runs very little and only when outside temps drop below -26.0° C (-15° F) for a number of consecutive days it is vital to keeping my pipes from freezing.  I’ve also deployed snow shovels to both the front and back porches.

Such chores are really not all that involved but I so enjoy them because they speak to me of the coming snow and cold.  And they also remind me of the rhythms of Mother Nature which are so very predominant in ‘The Great Land’.  Somehow it just feels so ‘right’ to have such activities dictated by the passage of the seasons.  And living in Alaska it is impossible not be aware of the season’s dance…

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

Tale of Three ‘Winters That Weren’t’

Once again the incredible power of Mother Nature is on display in ‘The Great Land’ as we are now seeing a bit over fourteen and a half hours of direct sunlight each day and that is increasing by six minutes with each 24 hour cycle.  This amazing land truly amplifies seasonal shifts to the point they become almost mind boggling.  Just eleven weeks in the past we were struggling to get a mere five hours of sunlight yet now the sun doesn’t set until 21:18 AKDST after rising at 06:47 AKDST!  By the time we make the summer solstice on June 20th we’ll see 19 hours and 55 minutes of direct sunlight with the sun rising at 04:05 AKDST and setting at 00:00 AKDST yet this is just ten weeks from now.  It is indeed a wild roller-coaster ride in terms of light and dark but one which folks living in the higher latitudes are all too familiar.

Talkeetna is easily three weeks ahead of past ‘norms’ for weather conditions as we’re already into break up with open water appearing on lakes, ponds and streams.  The gravel back roads are almost completely free of snow and ice and some are even dried to the point vehicular traffic generates dust.  We have wildly varying snow cover based mostly on the extreme amount of ice generated last November into December; ice just does not melt as quickly as snow.  Currently I’m estimating 80% snow cover but that figure involves the boreal forest which surrounds this area; any surface which is relatively free of tree cover is almost bare regarding snow and ice.  And this trend models the past winter which was probably the mildest in terms of temperatures in Alaska’s history.  In addition the precipitation was also extremely low making this winter and subsequent ‘early spring’ almost a carbon copy of the previous period.

In fact, the past three winters have been the mildest on record for the state thanks largely to the huge blob of warm water apparently anchored in the Gulf of Alaska – it is running 1.5° C to 2° C above normal – and the record sized El Nino of the past two years.  I suspect this could well be further evidence for a warming climate although I also know that three warm winters does not a trend make..!!  Because I am a ‘weather weenie’ with a bit of a scientific bent I collect daily meteorological data from my Davis Vantage PRO 2 weather station and often review this data.  In so doing I created the following analysis of the past three winters:

3 Winters

I chose the five month period from November through March as that has covered the main ‘winter’ months although five or more years back I would have also added April.  This fact by itself speaks to the warming and subsequent shortening of the recent Alaskan winters.  The small amount of data I reviewed has suggested a number of trends.  The average mean temp across the aforementioned five months by year shows a slow increase (+3.4° F) while the number of days with temps below 0° F shows a slow decrease (11 fewer days) across the same period.  Interestingly, February shows up as the coldest month based on my data yet historical records show January is normally the coldest month in this area with December a close second.  The chart showing the monthly mean temps shows amazing variation; only the line for the winter of 2014-2015 shows anything close to what one would expect.  The trace for 2013-2014 does show cooler temps in December and February but January is extraordinarily warm beating January 2016’s mean temp by 7.1° F and January 2014’s mean temp by a whopping 15.2° F!  Meanwhile, the line for 2015-2016 shows December was the coolest month – as predicted by the historical data and averaged across the previous roughly 70 years to be 11.3° F* – but then the temperatures just continued to warm across January, February and March.  None of these years showed an average January temperature equal to the historical 9.9° F monthly average.  Maybe most telling is the historical mean temp for March is 21.6° F yet the mean temp for March of 2014 was 23.4° F (+1.8° F) while that for March of 2015 was 25.0° F (+3.4° F) with last month’s figure even warmer at 28.5° F (+6.9° F).

All of this information serves mainly to suggest that Alaska has seen a dramatic warming of its winters since 2013 and to this point I do not see anything indicative of a change to this trend.  The recent El Nino should subside, it is already showing some weakening, and that will help allow for cooler winter temps but until the warm waters of the northern Pacific Ocean either equalize or move away from the Gulf of Alaska I suspect we will continue to see much above normal winter temperatures.  The real question in my mind is how much of the Pacific warming is due to climate change?  Without question much more study and analyses are required before this question can be answered.  As someone who loves snow and cold I’m not at all optimistic regarding our near term winter conditions.  If there is a silver lining to this pattern it could be such warm and dry winters bring about an early thaw and snow melt.  This, in turn, allows the water from the snow melt to sink into the floor of the boreal forest or evaporate before it can form the small, shallow pools the mosquitoes use for breeding.  I suppose if I cannot see those much sought after -30° F air temps or that four foot snow pack at least I can enjoy a spring, summer and fall sans those nasty little blood suckers…

*Historical weather data courtesy of NWS and ‘climate-zone.com’

Solo Holidays Aren’t So Bad!

It is another deep winter sunrise this Christmas Eve morning and I’m enjoying the slowly increasing light as viewed through the thick layer of condensation on the base of my office window. With an external temperature of -9.9°F (-23.3°C) such condensation on double pane window glass in this area is typical although getting a fire going in the new wood stove will help dry out my humble abode and minimize the condensation. We have not seen double digit outdoor temps since December 20th so it has been a bit cool of late here in Talkeetna.

While staring out my window and marveling at the beauty of the below zero landscape I was reminded of some concerns voiced by some of my well-meaning friends regarding spending the ‘holidaze’ with only the ‘kidz’. In particular one friend was actually worried about me which I found touching but also a waste of her concern. This started me thinking about the whole ‘holidays with family and friends’ routine and why some folks cannot imagine spending said times alone while others find it preferable. I most likely fall in between these two extremes with a definite leaning towards the latter.

I acknowledge the historical preference to spend the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays with family and friends and, indeed, for the first forty years of my life I was always with at least my parents and sometimes one or more siblings. But as families ‘age’ there is a tendency to move apart; many develop families of their own and in addition being part of the ‘working world’ limits the amount of time many folks can devote to holiday travel. Add to this the grief involved in just basic air travel and I do not find it surprising that it becomes more difficult for families to gather. But what led me to spend my holidays solo was first the separation of our family; my sister and family live in Monument (CO) which was far away from Dearborn (MI) where my folks lived. My brother lived in Chicago but largely remained incommunicado by his own choice. A bit later on as my folks aged they really didn’t observe the ‘family gathering’ piece; they preferred to attend their church services, mingle with friends but largely avoid a lot of holiday gatherings. After they passed I sometimes spent the holidays with friends but slowly began to just remain by myself. This was accentuated by the fact I rarely had a ‘significant other’ in my life and also had no children.

Everyone has read stories of ‘poor’ or ‘unfortunate’ people who are alone at the holiday season when they so pine for companionship and cheer; given there are so many I can only assume this does happen. But not everyone who is ‘solo’ is lonely or would prefer companionship. I am quite comfortable spending the holidaze with just my canine companions; during some of the past holidays I’ve attended meals at the local VFW but for the most part I truly prefer to be solo and comfortable. As my weight has become more of an issue with age I am much happier avoiding the calorie laden albeit delicious holiday cuisine. And I am able to better maintain the routines my canine companions so prize when it is just us.

It is not that I’m a ‘Grinch’ or someone who hates the holidays; quite the contrary as I truly enjoy the feeling of joy that permeates the atmosphere along with the fun in wishing folks a ‘Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year’. Rather, I prefer to celebrate them in my own way which is on a much lower key than the fondly remembered huge family gatherings around a table almost bowing under the weight of all the delicious food. And I always take a bit of time to honestly remember ‘the reason for the season’.

I truly do understand that some people cannot imagine being alone across the holidays and they extend their own discomfort to anyone who is solo; they want only to have everyone be happy and a part of the festivities. But there are a lot of us folks who really do prefer to be by ourselves during the holidays and it is not for any dark or sad reason; we just prefer it. Ultimately such people are far more comfortable spending the holidays in relative quiet and calm. They are mostly what I call ‘un-holiday people’ and I count myself among them. Again, we don’t hate the holidays; we just prefer to celebrate them in a different fashion.

So to all you well-meaning ‘holiday people’ I would ask this; please step back and think just a bit before you become overly concerned for someone spending Thanksgiving and/or Christmas alone. It is entirely possibly they prefer it that way…

Scientific Truth versus Political Agendas

With the onset of the UN sponsored meetings in Paris covering climate change once again the ‘news’ – and I use this term very loosely – is abuzz with the gamut of views from outright denial to fanatical following. I have made my own beliefs around this topic clear in previous postings; I concur that the earth’s climate appears to be warming but I remain very unsure as to what part human beings have played in this scenario especially as versed with how much of this change stems from some naturally occurring geologic pattern or meteorologically based shifts. And I remain uneasy about the massive programs so many countries want to undertake in an attempt to cut greenhouse gas production; my unease stems for the simple fact regardless of what ‘science’ claims to know regarding the evolution of the earth we still have almost no understanding of long term climate cycles on our planet let alone the rhythms and influences of things like solar output cycles and shifts in the earth’s magnetic field. This entire topic remains one of the most hotly contested battlegrounds today and that is because this topic was among the first to have factual information distorted almost constantly by polar opposite ideologies and political influences. In this sense once more our lame-stream media has failed to do its job and has, indeed, done more to muddy the waters than offer any clear, concise perspectives into the climate change concerns. More than anything else we need to get worthless politics out of the scientific realm and allow science as done by scientists to continue to research this scenario.

I understand that one or two or even three years does not a trend establish and this is exceptionally true regarding weather patterns which require data from hundreds of years to even begin to substantiate a ‘trend’ yet I must admit to having seen a definite warming in the Alaskan conditions during my 27 months of living in semi-rural south central Alaska. While the increase in warmth has been observed across the calendar year it is most noticeable in our winters. A case in point has been November of 2015; we started off the month with the ongoing slightly above normal temps but we soon began to see multiple snow events which dropped around 26” (66.04 cm) of snow before a brief albeit strong cold spell settled in. As it began to mitigate we saw another snow event which dropped around 12” (30.48 cm) of new snow in this area. But right on its heels came the dreaded warm up; we saw 78 consecutive hours during which we never dropped to 32.0°F (0.0°C) and across one of those days I measured 1.19” (3.02 cm) of rain. This period decimated the 35.2” (82.55 cm) of snow pack reducing it to just 15.5” (39.37 cm) of saturated snow which with the return of more seasonable temps has now turned to slippery, rock hard ice.

While I have no long term history in this area I have spent many hours perusing the data compiled by NWS and other agencies so I do have some feeling for what a ‘typical’ Talkeetna winter has involved across the last 60 to 75 years. In addition I’ve spoken at length to many locals who have spent decades if not their entire lives in this area. Without question the general consensus is the winters of 2013 to 2014 and 2014 to 2015 were extremely warm and fairly dry. This is borne out by NWS records showing the winter of 2014 to 2015 was the warmest on record for most of Alaska with the previous winter a very close second. In my mind there are two main contributors to these mild seasons; the warmth of the northern Pacific Ocean which is currently 2°F (0.56°C) above its normal temperature and the record sized El Nino off the coast of South America. It is not just the existence of these events but the effects they have on so many other factors like air density, moisture content, prevailing winds and the Jet Stream to name but a few. While many of these areas have been studied for quite a while we still lack a true understanding of why El Nino generally causes more winter moisture in California while decreasing the moisture in the Midwest. We infer these deductions by reviewing the data collected but any attempts to explain the mechanisms by which these scenarios occur remain just theories.

And herein lies the real challenge to so many of the statements made by ‘learned’ men regarding the climate change situation; all are based on inference and/or logical positivism. While correlations drawn from reputable datum can be powerfully persuasive they remain just that: correlations or inferences which cannot be stated as completely factual without also understanding how and why they occur. Sadly so it is with so much of what has been presented to the world in general and to the American public in particular. Yet somehow the very functions which should be recognizing these situations and delving more deeply into their basis and foundation – the so called ‘Fifth Estate’ or the news media – have instead anointed the climate change believers ‘those who understand’ while writing off anyone who has doubts as being deluded, living in denial or similar vitriolic nonsense. Once again, this is what happens when politics are allowed to enter into the scientific realm. It doesn’t take a genius to understand that so many researchers rely on outside funding to continue their work of which the federal government is prominent as are the large, multi-national corporations. Politics embody having an agenda and when this mingles with the funding from such major contributors the push to support said agenda cannot be denied. This, in turn, can and does lead to results which are not ‘acceptable’ being quashed in favor of those in agreement with the funding body’s agenda. And suddenly science is no longer ‘science’…

So once more I find myself railing against the intervention of politics into pure scientific research; it is fraught with powerful potential negatives and I cannot find one positive in so doing. Far too many of today’s pressing issues are of enough import we cannot allow the ongoing research to be influenced regardless of the results. But ‘we the People’ continue to allow this to happen as though it is the way it has always been which is not true. The United States should be taking the lead in pushing for independent means of financing research free from governmental bodies or the deep pockets of giant corporations. And the heretofore useless lame-stream media should be doing their job and questioning all results, not just those that do not agree with their agendas!

A Hopeful Sign..?

The past Sunday (11/08/15) evening the Upper Susitna Valley was treated to a snow event which produced anywhere from 4.0 inches (10.2 cm) to 10 inches (25.4 cm) of accumulating snow.  Although less than expected it was still welcomed by almost all the locals especially given the previous two winters which have set records for both warm temps and lack of moisture.  The main event lasted from around 16:30 AKST to 00:30 AKST but across the next couple of days light snow has appeared in the form of brief albeit random periods of snow showers.  I measured 7.5 inches (19.1 cm) from the main event but have since added another 3.5 inches (8.9 cm) giving the southern portions of Talkeetna around 11 inches (27.9 cm) of snow pack.  this is a good start and most folks are hoping to see a lot more in the coming months.  I would sure love to see another 3 to 4 feet (91.4 cm to 122 cm) )of snow pack by February but if I had to bet sadly I’d say we will probably not see anything near that amount because of the extremely large El Nino and the relative warmth of the northern Pacific Ocean.  But we can always hope!  Here are some images from the most recent snows:

Awakening to 7.5

Awakening to 7.5″ of fresh snow!

The grader heading down East Barge Drive removing snow as it moves

The grader heading down East Barge Drive removing snow as it moves

My front 'yard' Monday morning

My front ‘yard’ Monday morning

The 'kidz' enjoying the fresh snow!

The ‘kidz’ enjoying the fresh snow!

The 'kidz' enjoying unplowed East Barge Drive

The ‘kidz’ enjoying unplowed East Barge Drive

Driving the Spur in a heavy snow band

Driving the Spur in a heavy snow band

Moose lights illuminating the Escape's enclosure in moderate snow

Moose lights illuminating the Escape’s enclosure in moderate snow

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!!

 

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.