Alaskan Skies & Weather

A number of readers of this blog have commented on the images I sometimes include with a posting and quite a number of folks have expressed real amazement at some of the collages I’ve blogged.  A recent reader shared some thoughts with me; from these grew the idea of creating this piece which is really a blog regarding Alaskan skies and weather scenes.  This was very difficult to create simply because I have so many beautiful images of The Last Frontier’s skies and unusual/extreme weather.  I believe my initial perusal left me with almost sixty images; from these I managed to winnow it down to ‘just’ thirty six and from there down to the following 18 images.  I will most likely do another such posting down the road and include the remainder of the final 36 images which just failed to make the cut.  So, for your enjoyment, I offer you eighteen images of ‘Alaskan Skies & Weather’…

GunsiteMountainSnow2.jpg

This is Gunsite Mountain just north of the Glenn Highway.  If you look closely at the ‘dished’ area you will see a tiny square notch with the overcast gray sky visible beyond; hence the mountain’s name.

The Spur after the storm.JPG

A portion of ‘the Spur’ which runs from the ‘Y’ (intersection of the ‘Y’ and the Parks Highway also known as AK 3) to the village of Talkeetna after an overnight early spring snowfall

SR Basin-taiga XC.jpg

Savage River Basin in Denali NP&P on an early September afternoon.  The taiga and tussock tundra are in full fall color; this image has not been manipulated in any manner and I wasn’t using any special filters.  It is just this colorful!

Lil Cloud That Could.JPG

I spied this ‘Little Cloud That Could’ on the Parks Highway just outside Houston.  I don’t know if the rain was reaching the ground but I’d never seen just a single small cloud in an almost clear sky trying so hard to make rain!

AK 11 Orange Trees CU.JPG

Hill side fall color along the Elliot Highway (AK 2) between its junction with the Dalton Highway (AK 11) and Fairbanks.  Notice the small line of orange colored trees just a bit above and left of center; such color is rare up here due to a dearth of hardwood trees.

Thunderstorm Outflow at Fish Lake.JPG

Classic thunderstorm out-wash above the float plane docks on Fish Lake around Mile 9.5 on the Spur.  The thunderstorms were forming along the Talkeetna Mountains to the east.

Timbers Red Sunset2.jpg

A fiery red sunset over Kachemak Bay as seen from the front porch of a magical little cabin in Kachemak Bay SP&P named ‘Timbers’.

Timbers-Fog.jpg

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

NL2.jpg

The incredible Aurora Borealis as seen from a neighbor’s place perhaps six miles north of my home.  The late fall/early winter of 2016/2017 featured amazingly clear skies and intense auroral activity.  Many nights I lay in bed and just watched ‘Nature’s Light Show’ for hours.

RichardsonHighwaySnow4.jpg

The eastern Alaska Range as seen from a pipeline access pull out on The Richardson Highway (AK 4) maybe thirty miles south of Delta Junction.  It was early September of 2000 when this image was captured looking SSW and a brief snow event had occurred across the night.

AK 11 Alyeska Pipeline Into Fog WA.JPG

Split layer fog is relatively common in Alaska and this is a classic shot of said weather phenomena.  Just left of center is the Alyeska pipeline with the road splitting off to the right.  This was taken somewhere along the Dalton Highway (AK 11).

Foraker Forming Lenticular Cloud in AM.JPG

Mighty Mount Foraker (17,400 feet in elevation) is tall enough to form its own weather as evidenced by the lenticular clouds forming above its peak.  This image was taken from the Spur around Mile 5.

AK 11 Alyeska Pullout Sunset 6.JPG

A ‘molten’ orange-red sunset taken from a pull-out along the Dalton Highway (AK 11) just a bit north of Coldfoot.

MtIliamna Sunset.jpg

A majestic early September sunset above Mount Illiamna which is a four peaked active ‘strato-volcano’ exceeding 10,000 feet in elevation.  The image was taken at Stariski SRS and is looking west across Cook Inlet.

DaltonHighway-Sky.jpg

The huge Alaskan sky as seen from a gravel pit pull-out along the Dalton Highway (AK 11).  My buddy was using his video camera to capture the same ‘big sky’ effect.

Blowing Snow on Spur.JPG

It’s Alaska so ya gotta have one image of snow falling, right..?  This was taken in January of 2017 as I was driving south down the Spur from the village to my home.

Clouds Then Mountains CU.JPG

Close up of an unknown glacier in the Kenai Mountains with a thick cloud layer almost cutting off the tops of the mountains; the image was taken from the foothills around Homer and looking across Kachemak Bay.

Denali in Morning Alpenglow adj.JPG

Mighty Denali (20,287 feet in elevation) cloaked in morning Alpenglow as seen from the famous overlook on the Spur.  From this point the village of Talkeetna is just another couple miles up the road.

 

Alaska: State & State of Mind

The genesis of this piece involved a response to a dear friend’s lamentations concerning his move from Alaska after nineteen years and his burning desire to return to ‘The Last Frontier’ even after spending a year in the lower 48.  After he read it he saw the potential for the response to become the foundation for a blog posting.  After some brief consideration I, too, saw this potential; for his creative eye and his suggestion I cannot thank him enough!  While I’ve written on a number of different topics in the three and a half years I’ve been blogging the basis for this blog was ‘to document the learnings and experiences of one man who lived his entire previous fifty nine and a half years in the suburban lower 48 before picking up his home, saying goodbye to friends and moving to semi-rural south central Alaska.’  Given this foundation a reflection on this amazing lifestyle and why some folks ‘just do it’ seemed very apropos.

Only those whose souls have been scored by the raw majesty and awesome power of Alaska can truly understand the potent pull exerted by the amazing geography and abundance of wild animals. There are a lot of negatives to living in ‘The Great Land’ but once smitten we tend to look at them as ‘inconveniences’; kinda like the price we pay to live in such spectacular and amazing settings so alive with wildlife and so blessed with such an abundance of stunning scenery. Sadly, medical insurance is one such major ‘inconvenience’ and one which has cost me dearly since late March of 2015. I’ve even had times when I tried to imagine living someplace outside Alyeska. It was those times that reaffirmed my need to remain here in ‘The Last Frontier’ mainly because I couldn’t envision living any other place. I should’ve known this would be the case as I have no real wont to be anyplace other than Alaska and I make this statement as I go into the summer which is one of my least favorite seasons – I think I dislike break-up more – thanks to the continual light, the hordes of mosquitoes and similar hordes of tourists.

Alaska is definitely not for everyone and probably not for even a sizeable amount of people for as I’ve told so many people; “Things are just different up here”.  In a nutshell and unless one lives in Anchorage and rarely travels beyond its confines – and what a sin that would be – one must be able to handle many more potentially serious issues than a ‘typical’ person in the lower 48.  The fact that hypothermia is the number one killer in Alaska (not bears, wolves and/or moose as most tourists believe…) speaks to this concept.  A simple hike on a backwoods trail can turn deadly when the weather suddenly shifts from sunshine to cold rain and one has to make the return trek cold and wet on slippery rocks and suddenly voluminous creeks.

During my time in the lower 48 I visited almost all 48 states; rarely did I find places where it is so easy to venture just a few dozen miles outside a large population center and suddenly be ‘in the middle of nowhere’.  In my experience this is true in Maine, northern Michigan, Montana and a number of the states in the southwest.  But even in the aforementioned one can usually get a cell signal.  This is far from true in Alaska thanks to a minimal population which doesn’t support cell tower densities so common in the lower 48 and so many tall mountain chains.  This can be an annoyance to a problem in the summer; it can be deadly in the winter.  Therefore, it takes a different mind-set when traveling outside larger towns.  One must be prepared for all kinds of potential weather related issues (road closures, rapid flooding, high winds, brutal cold and immense snowfalls) as well as those involving a lack of ‘typical’ services like gas stations, towing services, mechanical expertise and similar.

By nature, Alaskans tend to be fiercely independent and more self-sufficient than most of the population in the lower 48.  The latter is almost a requirement as the low population density means goods and services are fewer and much further between.  While western style medicine is fairly good in and around Anchorage or Fairbanks it is much less so in semi-rural to rural areas.  Such locations are lucky if they have a small clinic and such clinics often have only physician’s assistants on staff.  There is a distinct lack of medications beyond the very basics.  As an example when I fell and severely fractured my left radius and ulna at the elbow the local clinic had nothing to give me for the pain, not even Tylenol III!  In addition, they had no splint large enough for my use so they improvised a splint and I drove myself to Mat-Su Regional in south Wasilla (against their wishes).  I was lucky our clinic had a small x-ray machine with which they confirmed my fractures.

I’ve offered up but a few of the differences between life in the lower 48 and that in semi-rural Alaska; there are a myriad more especially if one is living partially or completely off the grid.  Anyone doing so will confirm that such a lifestyle requires a load of energy in tandem with a broad knowledge of many areas – carpentry, plumbing, electrical, outdoor survival, food handling to mention just a few – just to survive, let alone thrive.  To someone with no interest in living in such a ‘basic’ manner those who do so seem ‘extreme’.  While I would not be comfortable in such circumstances – I really want my broadband connection, indoor plumbing and hot water – I can appreciate the lifestyle and would even be willing to try it for a time.  But then I am someone who gave up all the conveniences and ease of suburban living in the lower 48 for a somewhat more austere existence in semi-rural south central Alaska.

During my almost four years of living seven miles south of the village of Talkeetna and a half mile east of ‘The Spur’ I’ve changed in many ways; most of them for the better.  I’ve come to appreciate living on ‘Talkeetna time’, to not sweat the small stuff and to completely embrace the ‘great silence’ which surrounds me most of the year.  My lifestyle has slowed considerably and stress is something which has dropped away as well.  I love drinking a cup of coffee in my wooden rocking chair on my front porch as the sun slowly climbs above the boreal forest on a crisp October morning; watching Nature unfold about my place at any time of the day or night is a treat.  I love the fact that moose, bear and foxes are visitors to my property; I try to live in harmony with them.  I am so much more in touch with Nature because it surrounds me and drives so much of what I can, and cannot, do on any given day.  Deep within my soul I completely understand that Alaska is both a state and a state of mind…

Sure, there are ‘inconveniences’ to this life but then I don’t believe I’ve ever heard of a ‘perfect existence’.  As someone bitten by ‘the Alaska bug’ the country is part of my soul now and I so love her fierce independence and incredible majesty.  And I truly respect her for to fail to do so is to invite danger and even death.  Many would consider living over sixty miles from a full service grocery store, questionable electrical service, water from a well and a septic field to be far too ‘basic’; so be it.  I remember working for a large corporation, existing on the road almost ten months a year, living in crowded suburbs of large cities, being concerned about crime and spending days every year in traffic jams; compared to my current existence this seems like a form of corporate sponsored insanity.  No thank you; I love living in ‘The Great Land’ and cannot imagine life anywhere else!

Timbers Bald Eagle

A solitary Bald Eagle surveys the Halibut Cove area in Kachemak Bay State Park & Preserve. This majestic raptor truly symbolizes Alaskan independence and self-sufficiency!

Finally…A ‘Real’ Alaskan Winter!

I suppose I’m creating this piece as much to remind me of the winter to this point – one which I’ve thoroughly embraced as my first ‘real’ Alaskan winter – as to share with you some thoughts and images.  Without question this winter has been extreme and, no surprise, I’ve learned quite a bit more about typical Alaskan weather conditions in the winter months (November through mid-March).  As I write this piece I’m seeing overcast skies with an air temp of 34.7° F (1.5° C) after never dropping below 32.8° F (0.4° C) overnight.  Yesterday saw light morning snow become briefly heavy in the early afternoon before mixing with and finally changing over to freezing rain and then just rain.  For a while conditions were very severe in terms of visibility and traction on the Spur.

I’ve talked with long time locals who claim freezing rain used to be very uncommon and when it did occur it happened as fall slipped into winter and again when winter finally released its grip and acceded to spring.  Yet during my four winters up here I’ve seen the dreaded stuff every winter.  But I’m really not complaining as this has been a much more typical south central Alaska winter and in being so we’ve seen extremes.  Just three days back I saw -14° F (-25.6° C) in ‘downtown’ Talkeetna and the next morning my large circular bimetallic outdoor thermometer showed -19.5° F (-28.6° C) which was verified by my Davis Vantage Pro 2 wireless weather station.  But these temps pale next to the string of four days from January 17th through January 20th when we saw lows on January 18th of -32.1° F (-35.6° C) and on January 19th of -41.3° F (-40.7° C); the high on the 18th was -20.1° F (-28.9° C) and on the 19th we saw just -15.5° F (-26.4° C).  Our snow pack was a healthy 32.5″ (82.6 cm) before yesterday’s mess; even though we received 1.5″ (3.8 cm) of heavy, wet snow the warm temps and rain really did a number of the snow depth compressing it to 26.5″ (67.3 cm) which I reported to CoCoRaHS (Community Collaborative Rain, Hail & Snow network) this morning.  Looking out my office window I can see water dripping from the snow and ice atop the roof; given there’s no direct sunlight this is due only to the warm temps.

Here, then, is a collage of recent images reflecting my first ‘real’ Alaskan winter; hope you enjoy:

cool-downtown

A view of my Escape’s dash showing a fairly cool Saturday morning in ‘downtown’ Talkeetna

snowy-village

The Spur heading out of Talkeetna cloaked in heavy snow

20-sunrise

Cool sunrise at my place on Sunday, February 12th

anana-qanuk-in-heavy-snow

Anana and Qanuk enjoying a brief burst of heavy snow outside our place

anana-disappearing-into-snow

A very snowy afternoon on East Barge Drive with Anana (center of image) just disappearing into the snow

anana-by-thermometer

Anana by the thermometer which is reading much milder temps!

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’…

 

 

 

 

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

Just When We Don’t Need Hot, Windy and Dry Conditions…

Alaska has an amazing way of demonstrating just how little real ‘control’ we humans can exert upon this awesome state and yesterday we saw another humbling example of this truism. My friend Mark stopped in around 14:30 and told me a wildfire was burning to the south around Mile 78 of the Parks Highway. We immediately turned on the television but had to wait until 17:00 to get an Anchorage newscast; from it we learned a wildfire was burning out of control along the western side of the Parks at Mile 76 and had jumped the Parks Highway and was now burning along the east side as well. The state troopers had closed the Parks at Mile 78 to any traffic south bound; they were also diverting folks trying to drive north. At that time the fire was believed to be about 30 acres in size. Around 17:20 we decided to make the 7 mile trip to Cubby’s – a small grocery store – at the intersection of the Spur and the Parks Highway. As we approached the entrance to Cubby’s from the Parks we could see a huge cloud to the south along with the upwelling of ash brown smoke. This was our first glimpse of what was to become the Sockeye Wildfire.

The parking lot of Cubby’s was filled and inside it was a mess; many locals and tourists didn’t even know there was a fire and those that did were scrambling. The RVer’s were buying anything they could grab and many tourists in cars were panicking because they needed to get south. Few people had even the scant information we possessed so we disseminated what little we knew to the crowds. Upon finishing our shopping we headed back to the Spur; in so doing we saw a trooper parked on the side of the road stopping folks southbound on the Parks. They were allowing anyone access who lived at Mile 80 or further north; all others were being diverted to Talkeetna or asked to head north. Driving north on the Spur I saw three large Princess Cruise Lines buses pulled off on the side of the road; I’m sure they were trying to figure out what to do. As tourist season is in full bloom most of the rooms in Talkeetna were occupied and I’m sure by Sunday evening there was no lodging to be had in the village or outlying areas.

Our weather was about the worst it could be with blazing sunshine, an air temp of 84 F along with 30+ mph northerly winds and a relative humidity of just 22%. Sadly today is the same but as of 13:12 AKDT the outdoor temp is already 84.2 F with just 26% RH and 25+ mph northerly winds. Given our maximum temps are now occurring around 20:00 we will most likely set a record with temps near if not exceeding 90 F. Because of the northerly winds this area is safe; in this sense we are extremely lucky. But the fire continues to burn out of control and within a bit over 12 hours it has grown from just 30 acres to more than 6,200 acres; that’s an increase in size of almost 207 times!!  The Parks is currently open but is just one lane through the Willow area and vehicles can only drive this area when led by a pilot car.  Given the usual amount of summer traffic on the Parks coupled with a very busy tourist season there are a lot of rightly worried people.  Sadly many tourists are getting a taste of what it is like to live in Alaska!

Out of control due to high winds and hot temps with low humidity the Sockeye Fire burns ever onward

Out of control due to high winds and hot temps with low humidity the Sockeye Fire burns ever onward

The tenuous hold we humans have in ‘The Great Land’ is highlighted by this fire; in just 24 hours the blaze has cut the only road from Anchorage and the Palmer/Wasilla area to the interior and is destroying homes and properties. Normally the state allows wildfires to burn uncontrolled unless lives or property are in danger; in this case they are working feverishly to contain the fire.  Six ‘hot shot’ teams were flown in from the lower 48 last night and are on the fire lines along with every available firefighting team from the state. As of this writing it has spread to the outskirts of the Nancy Lake area which is large and densely populated – at least by Alaskan terms – with expensive homes, summer cabins and lots of docks with lake access.  Just to the SE is Houston; it really lies at the northernmost reaches of the Wasilla area. These folks are being evacuated as are those in the Nancy Lake area.

Iditarod contestant Jan Steve's Willow home

Iditarod contestant Jan Steve’s Willow home

Alaskans know Mother Nature will largely do as she will and there’s little we can do about it but go with the flow. But we can support our neighbors and do all we can to help them not just survive this disaster but also rebuild. For the near term just trying to organize to assist them is a huge chore; no one knows just how much work will be required in the future to help them re-establish their lives.  Not that most of us needed the reminder but we humans exist in this majestic state at the benevolence of Mother Nature; as such we must always remember she can be a fickle landlord.  Please say a prayer for all our neighbors to the immediate south and for all the brave firefighters!

Water tanker aircraft makes a run on the Sockeye Wildfire around Willow

Water tanker aircraft makes a run on the Sockeye Wildfire around Willow