Waiting For the Fall…

Although it is New Year’s Day, at least in most of the world, this will not be a ‘typical’ offering looking back across 2014 or creating lists based on last year or even a bucket list of things to do across the upcoming year. No, this is once again based upon the weather and some surprising results of the continued warmth. Nothing has changed since my last piece decrying the lack of normal temps and especially the extremely dry conditions; well…except for yesterday’s run of above freezing temps – 22 hours in all – and 24 hours of very light drizzle randomly mixing with sleet. This shrunk our already pitifully small 14” snow pack to just 9.5” as of 07:00 AKST this morning. In addition I recorded 0.24” of water virtually all of which came from the aforementioned drizzle and sleet.

But here is the gist of this posting:

January 1, 2015 snow overhang as  seen from second floor window

January 1, 2015 snow overhang as seen from second floor window

This image was taken out a second story window just an hour ago and shows a large section of saturated snow getting ready to fall from the roof. This process has been ongoing starting yesterday afternoon and continuing overnight much to the chagrin of Qanuk, my ever-alert GSD (his partner Anana, my Alaskan Malamute, sleeps right through such events or if one is big enough she may open an eye briefly). This is a typical Alaskan situation although what makes it so unusual is it usually happens in April, not January which is one of the two coldest months in Alaska. Normally in January it is far too cold to see rain and the daylight is far too short for any sunlight to even think about starting to melt the former 14” of snow on the roof.

Last year I saw this happen in late February and into March which was early but nowhere near as early as what’s been happening. Just another sad reminder of the almost total dearth of winter weather for the second consecutive winter season. These pieces which fall from the roof are of varying sizes but most have been fairly large across the past couple of days. I know this because when they have cut loose and embraced gravity they create a loud ‘BOOM!’ upon striking the ground; often the house will shake as a result. The first couple of such impacts yesterday afternoon had me believing an earthquake was underway but there was no follow through from that initial vibration so I knew this wasn’t the case. A quick trip out to the front porch and a careful look around the corner and along the south side of the house showed a couple of recent impact piles.

Such events are part of living in Alaska and have forced these homes to be built with steeply angled roofs and overhangs of at least a foot and a half to insure when this does happen the detritus is distributed away from the side of the building. What is not at all typical is to be wary of and ready to dodge such events in early January…

Meteorological Mischief or Global Warming..?

Even though I have not spent an October in Alaska until this one I did a lot of research on the weather of my possible retirement locations – it ultimately came down to Homer in the southern Kenai Peninsula on Kachemak Bay or Talkeetna – and experienced fall and some spring weather in each location as well.  Indeed, one of the determining factors in my final choice of Talkeetna was its propensity for cold, snowy winters.  Therefore imagine my surprise given the weather I’ve actually experienced since arriving in the early afternoon of August 6th!  The remainder of August was warmer than normal with above normal precipitation, September was at least four degrees above normal in terms of temps and saw well over twice the normal rainfall and now October has been at least five degrees above normal temps and we’ve already seen 199% of October’s normal average rainfall of 2.90″.  During the completed 19 days of October to this point I’ve reported measurable precipitation on 16 of those days (that’s 84.2%..!!) and today being the 20th day will definitely see some rain before midnight.

In conversations with the locals I’ve been told October normally sports steadily cooling temperatures but many days with dry sunshine and some of the best weather of the year.  According to NWS climatological records the average first snowfall in Talkeetna is around October 3rd yet we have yet to see any snow and will probably not see any for at least another couple of days.  When it finally does snow it will most likely be mixed with rain and occur only during the early morning hours before turning over to just rain.  I was also told that by this time last October the lakes and rivers had frozen over and people were beginning to ice skate on them!  Only twice have I seen any ice on the local ponds and lakes and that was just the barest trace.  I have noted numerous reports of snow in the lower 48; my sister saw accumulating snow in Monument, Colorado – a northern suburb of Colorado Springs – three days ago.  But NWS is saying all of Alaska will see well above normal temps for at least the next six to ten days.

I’m not convinced of the validity of ‘global warming’ or perhaps I should clarify; I do without question believe the earth’s climate is getting warmer but I remain unconvinced it’s all humanity’s fault.  Sure, I can believe we’ve played a part but I also believe there’s much more going on in terms of geological processes and climate cycles than we understand or have even recognized.  With all this said what I’ve experienced since August certainly would seem to support the climate is warming although to make such an assumption based upon a couple of warm months is a scientific absurdity.  However, when I first visited Alaska in the early fall of ’96 I know Denali NP&P closed around the start of the second full week in September generally because it was already dropping well below freezing and staying right around that temp during the days.  Yet as the years have passed I’ve seen the Park remain open later and later; I believe it didn’t close this year until the end of September.  I also remember growing up in SE Michigan when we did see snow on the ground one out of every three or four Thanksgivings; while I haven’t checked the actual data I’m sure its been decades since there was snow on the ground by late November in that area.

Regardless, the weather I’ve experienced in Talkeetna to this point has been very unusual in terms of warmth and rainfall; data from years of observations back this up.  It is interesting to still see insects outside when the temp rises above 40 F and especially if we see just a bit of direct sunlight during those temps.  My neighbor told me that in a ‘typical’ year all the insects are history by the first part of October.  I cannot help but wonder if this run of warm and wet weather will continue into November which at this time is just eleven days out.  I do know I could sure use a break in the darn rain as I have a lot of material I need to get burned before it begins to snow and accumulate – assuming this ever happens – but right now everything is saturated.  I have a huge pile of cardboard boxes stacked by the burn barrel which are soggy and beginning to fall apart; I’ve tried building a wood fire inside the barrel and then feeding said cardboard slowly into it but this requires hours of such effort to burn just a few boxes.  Trying to hurry the process just puts out the fire in the barrel.

Remnants of moving boxes and packing too saturated to burn

Remnants of moving boxes and packing material too saturated to burn

I’ve also grown tired of running my dehumidifier almost constantly since I first purchased it a few days after arriving.  However, failure to do so will allow the relative  humidity to slowly climb above 70% which is just too darn high!  Prior to moving up here I wouldn’t have thought a dehumidifier would become an absolute necessity but its possible that if the local weather does return to some kind of ‘normal’ then perhaps I won’t need to run it constantly.  I do know one thing for sure; Mother Nature will do as she will regardless of my wishes – or anyone else’s for that matter – so I’d best just learn to roll with the punches and try to work around the less than favorable situations…

Damp Days!

Given my fascination with all things weather it should come as no surprise that I love to collect and analyze meteorological data as well as weather related imagery.  I already knew Alaska was rich in both these areas and my first two plus months living up here has not disappointed!  Its been a very strange weather year for most of ‘The Last Frontier’ and this strangeness is continuing; to be more specific its been well above normal in terms of temperature and especially rainfall.  In addition the very make up of our daylight has been shifting dramatically.  Its sure getting dark early (around 19:00 AKDT) and not getting light until almost 08:40 AKDT; we’re still losing 5 minutes and 28 seconds of light per day (i.e. 38 minutes and 30 seconds per week!) which is a phenomenal amount.  I’m not pleased we’re stuck in this warm cycle; the NWS climatological records show we should be below freezing by every morning now and rarely climbing much above the middle to upper thirties during the day.  Heck, this morning we didn’t even drop to 41 F and I haven’t seen a temp below freezing since October 10th.  In fact out of the sixteen days in October on only five mornings has the air temp fallen below freezing and the coldest I’ve recorded was just 24.9 F.  I’m ready for some genuine Talkeetna late fall weather but thus far its not to be seen!  The rain sure hasn’t let up much; I’ve recorded 5.14″ of rain in October, not including what’s fallen since 07:00 AKDT this morning, with 12 out of 16 days this month showing measurable rainfall.  Given the average October rainfall is 2.90″ we’re already 177% of normal for the entire month!  Definitely strange weather and not at all what I expected especially in terms of precipitation.  Some of the locals tell me that by this time in a normal year the lakes and rivers have frozen up and folks are ice skating!!  And, of course, its continuing to rain today although we’re currently seeing a small break in actual precipitation.

Boreal forest need a lot of precipitation to survive and this immediate area is making sure said woods have more than enough!  While taking the dogs outside a bit earlier I snapped these images of my back yard:



If you look closely at the branches and limbs you’ll see a myriad of water droplets clinging to almost any close to horizontal exposed surface.  Its just that wet.  Even the normally just damp dirt roads are awash in puddles; getting the dogs out in such conditions sees them return looking as though they’ve been sprayed down with a hose.  Although they lust after the exercise they are not pleased to discover such circumstances guarantee a stay in the mud room until they dry off and remove some of the dirt.  Yesterday was the first time we walked in a steady down pour and even with good rain gear about all I could handle was a bit more than an hour.

We’re long overdue for snow and while I love the snow and cold – if I didn’t I’d have picked the wrong place to retire to – I’m really looking forward to it now because its so much easier to walk in it and not get saturated in the process.  From my researches Talkeetna normally sees snow around the start of October and generally has snow cover by this point in the month.  Given its 43.7 F at 12:13 AKDT today we’d have to cool off a lot to see the white stuff.  While I know it will eventually make it I must admit to being impatient.  With this said I cannot help but remember the old saw; ‘be careful what you wish for..!’.  I’ve never experienced an Alaskan winter; the closest I came was the week I spent up here last April (7th through the 13th) house hunting.  During that time it was regularly in the teens during the day and dropped well below zero at night; in addition we saw snow which added a few more inches atop the existing 30 plus inches of existing snow pack.  This winter is going to be a real learning experience but then I expected this and must admit I’m ready to see just how well I fare; regardless it will be a true adventure for this lower 48er learning life in rural Alaska!