Category Archives: Alaska

The mukluks hit the snow

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Toksook Bay, Alaska; Photo credit: U.S. Census

The U.S. Census starts its official count today, January 21, in Toksook Bay, Alaska.  Since 1960, the first census year after Alaska became a state, the census has started in Alaska.

With 80% of Alaska communities not on the road system, and with many villages without extensive internet service, the census starts early in Alaska.  Getting around remote Alaska is much easier when the ground is frozen.  Also, it is much more difficult to count people,  after many residents of Bush Alaska head out to their fish camps.

Thus the mid-winter start to the counting in Alaska.

I have a friend who was assigned to Toksook Bay as she works for the Census Bureau this season.  I hope she has a wonderful experience.  The first person interviewed by the Census is always a village elder.  That first village varies, with the Alaska Federation of Natives deciding which village will be initially enumerated.

Toksook Bay is a coastal village on the Bering Sea.

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This will be the 24th Census taken in the United States, with the first taking place in 1790.  The majority of the country will see census forms start to show up in March.


But, you’ll have to check the antlers…

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The moose is a better mascot

A rather cheeky response to Western Airlines.  This was probably a local advert; I spotted it at the Pioneer Air Museum.  It certainly would have been a hit in Alaska in the 1970’s.


Pioneer Air Museum

Fairbanks, Alaska

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Pioneer Air Museum

It had been several years since I ventured into the Air Museum at Pioneer Park.  Since they were experimenting with winter hours, I decided it was time to head back over there and see what was new.

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Under The Dome: Inside the Air Museum

The Pioneer Air Museum houses a fairly extensive collection of aircraft and other artifacts mainly pertaining to Interior Alaska and Arctic aviation.

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Ben Eielson Display

The first major display is on Ben Eielson, the famed aviator and Alaskan bush pilot.  Eielson learned to fly in WWI, with the U.S Army Signal Corps.  After the war, a chance run-in with Alaska’s territorial delegate to Congress, led to Eielson heading to Alaska to teach.  By 1923, Eielson had started the Farthest North Aviation Company.  Eielson was the first to fly air mail in Alaska, and the first to fly from North America over the North Pole to Europe.

In 1929, Eielson and his mechanic died in a plane crash in Siberia.  The cargo ship Nanuk was frozen in sea ice off North Cape, and Eielson was contracted by expedition leader Olaf Swenson to fly out personnel and furs.  The plane crashed in a storm, cruising at full throttle into the terrain.  A faulty altimeter is the suspected cause of the crash.  Parts of Eielson’s recovered aircraft is on display at the museum.

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1935 Stinson SR-JR

This bright red Stinson SR-JR, the Spirit of Barter Island, came to Alaska in 1940, and was flying the Interior out of Fairbanks in 1953 for Interior Airways.

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The Stinson in artwork

This SR-JR carries four passengers, has a  cruising speed of 110mph, and a range of 450 miles.  It was an Interior workhorse, and well known in the Fairbanks area.  The image, “I Follow Rivers”, can be found on t-shirts around Fairbanks to this day.

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Stinson V77: Peter Pan

The Stinson V77 is the Navy version of the SR-10 Reliant.  “Peter Pan” flew the Kuskokwim and Yukon River mail runs.  The Stinson Reliant was a favorite of bush pilots, as the aircraft was equally at ease landing on wheels, skis or floats.  In 1949, “Peter Pan” made the flight from Bethel, Alaska to Boston, Mass.  It is back in Alaska, on loan to the museum, from the bush pilot’s family.

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1943 P-39 Wreckage

The P-39 Airacobra was a common sight in Alaska’s Interior during WWII, as it was a mainstay of lend-lease aircraft to the Soviets.  This P-39 only made it to Fairbanks in pieces, as it was involved in a mid-air collision with another aircraft 60 miles east of Fairbanks.  Both pilots survived the crash.

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1942 ST Type Ryan PT-22

The PT-22 was used for flight training all over the globe.  Over 14,000 Air Corps pilots trained in the PT-22.  This particular PT-22 came to Fairbanks in 1956 after it was retired out of the military.

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The “Huey”

Manufactured by Bell Helicopter in 1966, this UH-1H “Huey”, saw combat in South Vietnam.  During a mission in 1969, this UH-1H was hit by a rocket propelled grenade while landing.  After the war, it came to Alaska, and was transferred around the Alaska Army bases, finally landing at Fort Wainwright in Fairbanks.  It was retired in 1993, and is on loan to the museum from the U.S. Army.  The “Huey” is still maintained by Army personnel.

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Thomas Ackerman photo

A visitor to the museum several years ago, recognized the Huey’s ID number as the one he flew during the Vietnam War.  Sgt Thomas Ackerman was a crew-chief and gunman on this UH-1H.  He supplied several photos of the Huey, during its time in Vietnam, to the museum, including the one above.  Thomas Ackerman died of Agent Orange related cancer in 2004.


Alaska was warm in 2019

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Graph by ACCAP/@AlaskaWx

Across the state, Alaskan cities and villages saw their warmest year ever recorded.  Utqiagvik, Kotzebue, Fairbanks, Anchorage, Bethel, Kodiak and Cold Bay, all saw record warmth in 2019 as a whole.  For the first time since recording began, Fairbanks had an average temperature above freezing.

Juneau had a record number of days of 70F or higher, which was enough to give the capital city their third warmest year.

Across the state we set 326 new record highs, as opposed to just 12 record lows.

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Graph credit: NOAA, ACCAP, @AlaskaWx

Statewide, Alaska had 87% of its days above normal, with only 13% of days with below normal temps.  Normal is based on 1981-2010 averages.

The tail end of December did see a dip in temps, at least in the Interior and northern regions.  Sea ice has finally started to extend, although the amount is still lower than what we had at this point in 2019.

The temperature at the Anchorage International Airport fell to -10F on Sunday morning.  That is the first time Anchorage has seen minus ten in 3 years.


Almost Rocket Season

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The fine folks out at Poker Flat Research Range have announced future launch windows. The first one opens on 26 January.  Poker Flat does stream the launches of their sounding rockets online.  One can receive launch updates by following the instructions above.

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The aurora in Venetie, Alaska; Photo credit: PFRR

PFRR also has their nightly All-Sky Camera, which is very sensitive to the aurora.  You can find their camera here:

https://allsky.gi.alaska.edu

The Geophysical Institute of the University of Alaska – Fairbanks has an aurora forecast, which is regularly updated. The link to that is here:

https://www.gi.alaska.edu/monitors/aurora-forecast

 

 


Mount Shishaldin

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The Shishaldin Volcano on Unimak Island; Photo credit: USGS

Mount Shishaldin, which is one of the most beautiful and perfectly cone-shaped volcanos on the Aleutian Chain, has been restless since July 2019, with several short burst eruptions.  At the end of December, temperature elevations were measured at its summit, and seismic activity had increased substantially.

This past Friday morning, Shishaldin erupted, sending ash five miles into the air.  Volcanic lightning, and the glow of lava near the summit, could be seen from Cold Bay.

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Shishaldin from high; Photo credit: AVO

At an elevation of 9373′, Mount Shishaldin is the highest peak in the Aleutians.  Shishaldin is relatively young, with its cone less than 10,000 years old, although remnants of an ancestral volcano can be found on Unimak.

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Mount Shishaldin, postcard image, circa 1910; Photo credit: J.E. Thwaites

The first known ascent of Shishaldin happened in 1932, when G. Peterson and two others, made the climb to the summit.  It is widely understood, that native Aleuts and visiting Russians certainly made the climb previously, but their ascents were not documented.

Local climbers are known to still make the climb to Shishaldin’s summit, then ski back  down its flank.


December 2019: Cold Snap

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Map credit: National Weather Service & NOAA

Interior Alaska had a decent cold snap drop in for the Winter Solstice and Christmas holiday.  From December 17-28, Fairbanks did not see temperatures climb above zero.  By Alaska standards, the period was neither long nor extreme, but we did make some ice, as they say.  For comparison sake:  The 11 day streak of below zero is tied for 42nd longest in the past 50 years. *

The Koyukuk & Yukon River Valleys saw the largest drops, as Allakaket and Manley Hot Springs fell to -60F and -65F respectively.  The Manley temp was the coldest officially recorded in Alaska since Fort Yukon dipped to -66F in 2012.

Fairbanks officially reached -40F for the first time this season on Dec 27.  That was the only day it dropped down to -40 at the cabin, as well.  We had not seen -40F in Fairbanks since January 12, 2019, which is quite the stretch for us.

On December 28, the Deadhorse airport combined -38F temperatures with a 21 mph breeze, to offer a -73 degree windchill to residents of Prudhoe Bay.

No record lows were set during the 11 day period.  The record low statewide for the month of December is -72F, which happened in Chicken, Alaska on New Year’s Eve of 1999.

In spite of the cold snap, there is little doubt that 2019 will be the warmest on record for Alaska.  Currently, the temp outside the cabin remains above zero, some birch logs are smoldering in the wood stove, and a window is open, as I type this out, dressed in shorts and a t-shirt.

Interior Cabin Life.

*@AlaskaWx 


3 hours, 40 minutes

A video of time-lapse photos by Fairbanks photographer Eric Muehling.  3 hours and 40 minutes compressed into 1 minute and 15 seconds.  The interval between each photograph is 10 seconds.

Now the pendulum swings back, and we start to gain daylight once again.  Life in the Far North.


Closing a fishery

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Collecting Pacific cod samples; Photo in Public Domain, credit to NOAA

For the first time, the federal government has closed the cod fishery in the Gulf of Alaska for the 2020 season.  The reason: Low stock.

The Blob, a marine heatwave that hit the Gulf in 2014 is taking the blunt of the blame.  Ocean temperatures rose 4-5 degrees, with some areas of the Gulf rising by 7 degrees.  The increase in water temperature killed off young cod.

Cod usually return to the fishery after three years or more.  They can live up to 14 years, and tend to reach a weight of 12 pounds.

After the heatwave, cod numbers crashed from 113,830 metric tons in 2014 to 46,080 in 2017.  The numbers have been dropping ever since.

The closing will have a huge effect on the winter economies of places like Homer and Kodiak.  Prior to The Blob, the fishery was a $50 million industry for Alaska and the Pacific Northwest.

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“The Blob” in 2014 and 2019; Image credit: NOAA

Unfortunately, the blob’s sequel looks to be heading back to Alaskan waters.  As of September 2019, the water temp of Blob 2 was only two degrees shy of the original.


55 Degree Swing

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Overflow on Goldstream Creek

Last Friday morning the temp at the cabin was -30F.  On Tuesday morning the temp was +25F.  So as many in the Lower 48 experience cooler temps, we in Interior Alaska are back in sweatshirts.  In fact, I even saw someone breaking out the shorts on Tuesday.

I haven’t gone that far yet, but I do have at least one open window.