Category Archives: Alaska

Turnagain Arm

Looking across Turnagain Arm

Turnagain Arm, south of Anchorage, received its name from one William Bligh, who was serving under Captain James Cook, during his search for the Northwest Passage. Bligh was sent out with a party to explore the two arms of what is now Cook Inlet. Both arms of the inlet led to rivers, and not the famed Northwest Passage, and Bligh testily named the final arm Turn-Again, because they had to turn around for a second time. It’s no wonder his crew would eventually mutiny.

The Turnagain Arm tidal bore; Photo credit: Alaska Railroad Collection

At low tide, Turnagain Arm becomes a large mud flat. The tides here are the largest in the United States, coming in at 40 feet. The arm is also known for its tidal bores, which can be as high as six feet, which is an impressive sight, as it rushes across the arm. Beluga whales often surf the bore as it comes in.

The sun sets over the waters of Turnagain Arm; Beluga Point, Alaska


The Original: “Blue Canoe”

The MV Chilkat at dock in Ketchikan, Alaska

In 1948, what would become the Alaska Marine Highway System, started out as a ferry service between Haines and Juneau with a surplus WWII landing craft, which was dubbed The Chilkoot. Demand quickly outpaced what the 14 vehicle Chilkoot could provide, so the territorial government commissioned the building of a dedicated ferry at the cost of $300,000.

The MV Chilkat came on line in 1957, as the first ferry in the new Alaska Marine Highway System. Painted blue and gold, the ferries soon took on the nickname Alaska’s “blue canoes”.

The Chilkat was “the Queen of the Fleet”, and traveled the Lynn Canal daily, between Haines, Skagway and Juneau. Later, it would ply the waters between Ketchikan and Annette Island. The Chilkat carried 59 passengers and 15 vehicles, and was a workhorse in Southeast Alaska until 1988.

The decommissioned Chilkat in Fanny Bay, British Columbia, circa 2012

The Chilkat became a scallop tender in 1988, when the State sold her.

The Chilkat breaking loose from her moorings; Photo credit: KTOO

High winds hit Anacortes, Washington on January 13, where the Chilkat was docked. She broke loose from her moorings in gusts of 50 knots, shifted awkwardly, and sank within minutes. Three boats broke free during the storm, but only the 99 foot former ferry sank.

Since the Chilkat had been taken out of service, she had no fuel or oil in her system. The owner of the boatyard says the Chilkat will be eventually be raised from the sea bed.


Winter Update

Graphic credit: National Weather Service – Fairbanks

It’s been a warm winter so far for Interior Alaska. The low temp for this winter season was officially -29F at the airport. At this same point last year, we already had seen two weeks worth of -30 or colder. We have not hit that mark yet, although I have seen a few -30F degree mornings at the cabin.

Graphic credit: NWS Fairbanks

The winter started out with some decent dumpings of snow, but that tap has been turned off since mid-November. We have had a total of 5″ since November 16. That is well below the average of 22.4″ during that period. The record snow over that same time frame is 86.8″, which fell during the 1970-71 season.

Anchorage and Fairbanks combined have had 8/10 of an inch of snow over the past two weeks. By comparison, and I’m enjoying this, several towns in Texas have had more snow the past two weeks: Austin with 1.3″; Midland: 3.2″; Waco: 4″; College Station: 4.5″; Lubbock: a whopping 7.6″! Congrats on the snow.


Lightning Strikes

Lightning strikes across Alaska in 2020; Map credit: Vaisala

Alaska had 415,231 lightning strikes statewide in 2020. That may seem like a lot, but it’s nothing compared to Texas. In 2020, the Second Largest State in the U.S. had 33,816,168 strikes, which led the nation. The Lone Star state also had the #1 slot in 2019.

Florida led the U.S. in strikes per square mile, with 194 events.

Rhode Island had the least lightning events with only 8551 in 2020.

There were 170 million lightning events across the United States in 2020, which was a drop of 52 million from the previous year.

Even the high Arctic receives some flashes. There were 192 events north of 85°N over the course of two days: July 1-2.

The Washington Monuments was struck on June 4.

Vaisala’s U.S. National Lightning Detection Network, records both in-cloud, and cloud to ground lightning flashes.

Source: Vaisala Annual Lightning Report: 2020


Alaska Covid-19 Restrictions

Courtesy of The Onion:

  • Preventing people from dying alone 5,000 miles away from anyone who loves them would defeat the entire purpose of Alaska.
  • Residents advised against pulling down their mask to say, “Hey, there’s a moose” every time they see a moose.
  • Visitors must quarantine for 14 days in the Alaskan wilderness with nothing but a pocket knife and a frying pan.

There was a state by state slideshow on their site. I admit to only looking at Alaska’s, because it was only two slides into the presentation. I am a fan of alphabetical order. Link to the entire slideshow can be found below:

https://www.theonion.com/state-by-state-covid-19-restrictions-1845906521


Losing Darkness

Happy Winter Solstice

Photo credit: University of Alaska Fairbanks

On the Winter Solstice, we neither gain nor lose daylight here in Interior Alaska. The day today will be the same length as yesterday: 3 hours, 47 minutes long.

But tomorrow, tomorrow we will gain 20 seconds. Christmas Eve will see a gain of a minute, and by New Year’s, our daylight will last more than 4 hours.

It’s a big deal here in the north.

Saturn and Jupiter join forces; Credit: NASA/JPL

There will be a double treat in the skies this year, as we get to experience the rare “double conjunction”. Saturn and Jupiter will be so close together in the low southwestern sky, that they will appear as one bright point. The best time for viewing will be one hour after sunset.

The last time Jupiter and Saturn put on this “joint force” in the sky was in 1623.

And for any readers south of the equator:

Cheers!


Aurora Watch

There is a Geomagnetic Storm Watch in place for December 9-11. A coronal mass ejection (CME) happened on December 7, and that explosion of energy is headed our way.

The aurora should put on quite a show over the next few nights for those of us in viewing range and with clear skies.

Fairbanks, which is usually dead center of aurora viewing, is actually on the northern end of the spectrum. Looking south for the northern lights!

Map credit: University of Alaska Geophysical Institute


Up river with a cabin

Cabin floats up the Nome River; Photo credit: Jim Dory

A recent storm that hit Nome, Alaska had such a storm surge, that it took a cabin off its foundation, floating it upstream on the Nome River.

The cabin, owned by Rita Hulkill (82) of Nome, had been on the site for decades. According to Hulkill, the water had never been that high, ever. Without any sea ice, there was nothing to protect Nome from the surge. The cabin sat on a parcel of land that was a part of a native allotment that belonged to the Hulkill family. Much of that allotment has been eroded away, and only a few feet remain.

The cabin, at its new location on the Nome River; Photo credit: James Mason

The cabin, originally built in the 1970’s, was deposited, intact, up river from its original location. It had been used primarily as a subsistence residence in recent years.

Sources: The Nome Nugget; UAF’s ACCAP; @AlaskaWX


Entering Polar Night

Credit: National Weather Service – Fairbanks

The village of Utqiagvik is the northernmost “city” in the United States. On Wednesday, the sun set at 1:30pm, and it will rise again in the new year on January 23.

In contrast, Fairbanks saw the sun rise at 9:39am on Wednesday, and saw it set at 3:35pm. For a length of day of 5 hrs 55 mins, and 8 hrs 5 mins of visible daylight. Thursday will see 6 mins and 19 secs of less daylight.

Only a month more of losing daylight for Fairbanks, but another 66 days for Utqiagvik to turn that corner.

Fairbanks is 502 miles south of Utqiagvik.


The shrinking of Alaska’s salmon

Salmon returning home to spawn

Salmon is a vital resource in the state, so it should come as no surprise that Alaska has been studying salmon since before statehood. For over 60 years, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game has kept detailed records of length, weight, age and escapement for four species of Pacific salmon that spawn here.

Graph credit: University of Alaska – Fairbanks

The salmon that return to Alaska from their time in the ocean, are now smaller than they have been historically. The reason: They are returning to spawn at a younger age.

The Chinook, Alaska’s state fish, has been the hardest hit. King salmon are, on average, coming in at 8% smaller than in the 1980’s. The coho, or silver salmon is 3.3% smaller, chum is at 2.4%, and the sockeye 2.1. The decrease in size has accelerated since 2010 for all four species.

At first glance, what is 8% really? Well, the ramifications are large and far reaching. The Yukon-Kuskokwim River system is the largest subsistence area in the entire country. It takes more fish to feed a family. Commercial fishermen also must catch more fish to make the same amount of money.

Environmentally, the entire ecosystem relies on the salmon returning to spawn. Just the reduction in chinook salmon size alone means a reduction of 16% in egg production, i.e. future salmon populations; and a 28% reduction in nutrients going back into the river systems. For the pocket book issues: the reduction in king salmon means a 26% reduction as a food source, and a 21% reduction in the value of the fishery.

There does not appear to be one smoking gun for the change in Alaska’s salmon population, but a series of events that effect each species differently. Warming ocean temperatures are partly to blame, but so is competition between wild and hatchery populations. Size-selective fishing seems to also be a part of the equation, especially with the mighty chinook.

Wild salmon can stay out in the ocean for up to 7 years, but now they are often returning to fresh water to spawn at 4 years.

Sources: University of Alaska – Fairbanks; Alaska Dept of Fish & Game; Alaska Public Media; Fairbanks Daily News-Miner