Category Archives: Alaska

Denali on canvas

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This painting is on display at the Fairbanks Community Museum.  Photo by Circle to Circle


Fairbanks Community & Mushing Museum

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There is a small local museum on the second floor of the Co-Op Plaza Building in the heart of downtown Fairbanks.  I believe that two museums combined forces, with the Community Museum embracing the once separate Dog Mushing Museum, which had fallen on hard times.

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The 1962 Bombardier Ski-Doo is a powerhouse of snow, stomping fun.  The four-cycle engine produces 7 whole horsepower, and offers a top speed of 15mph.  Is that quicker than a horse-drawn sleigh?  The little Ski-Doo last raced in the 2006 Tired-Iron Snowmachine Rally, which is an annual event here in Fairbanks.

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Dog mushing is a major part of Interior Alaska’s identity, although recreational mushers are becoming a rare breed.  Currently, around the same time frame in March as the Dog Derby of 1941, Fairbanks hosts the Open North American Championship dog sled races.  The Open North American brings in mushers from around the globe.

 

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The big race for Fairbanks is the Yukon Quest, which runs between Fairbanks, Alaska and Whitehorse, Yukon Territory.  The 1000 mile race was first run in 1984.  The start line alternates yearly between the two cities.

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This Yukon style toboggan, circa 1920, is representative of the style used in the Interior Alaska woods.  They traveled better than sleds with runners.  The woodwork was obviously done by hand, and the sides, and back are made of moose hide.  It was built, owned and operated by a famed local trapper.

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The museum is full of photographs from all stages of Fairbanks’ history.  From the gold rush days of its founding, to the Great Flood, and beyond.

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During the tourist season, the film “Attla” has been shown on a weekly basis at the museum.  George Attla was the iconic Alaskan dogsled racer.  He dominated sprint races, with a career that spanned from 1958 to 2011, doing it all on one good leg.  Mr Attla, originally from the village of Koyukuk, passed away in 2015.

On a separate, but related note:  The PBS show, “Independent Lens” will be broadcasting an episode on George Attla on December 16.  Check your local PBS station for showtimes.


Alaska’s November in review

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Data credit: NOAA; Graphic credit: @AlaskaWx

November was a warm month across the State of Alaska.  With the lack of sea ice, Utqiagvik was a staggering 16.1 degrees above normal for the month.  By comparison, Fairbanks was a modest 10.6 degrees above normal for November.

 

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Graph credit: ACCAP

Sea ice in the Chukchi Sea was at the lowest level ever recorded for November.  In fact, sea ice was at such a low level, that it was below the daily average levels for entire summers prior to 2001.

 

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November highlights: Data credit: NOAA; Graphic credit: @AlaskaWx

Some highlights for the month statewide:

The final week of the month hit the village of Bettles, with a record 3-day snowfall of 28.3″.  That same storm also set the 2-day record.

Anchorage, Cold Bay and Kodiak all saw their warmest November on record, while Utqiagvik experienced its second warmest.

On Thanksgiving morning the temperature in Fairbanks was 33F, which is only the seventh time in 116 years that Fairbanks saw above freezing temperatures on that day.

Nome had no snow on the ground during November, yet Chulitna received 78.5″!

Kotzebue continues its streak of above average temperatures for the 27th consecutive month.


One long night

Utqiagvik, AK; Image credit: FAA Weather Cam

The sun set over Utqiagvik (Barrow) , Alaska at 1:50pm AST on Monday the 18th of November.

The sun will not rise again over Utqiagvik until 23 January 2020.

Life in the Far North.


Breaking Trail

Snow! Finally, we received a nice dumping of snow.

I have 8-9″ of fresh snow outside my door.

I took the snowshoes out for a spin for the first time this season, which required breaking a new trail. The beavers seem to be content within their lodge and under the ice. Any remaining standing trees should be safe until spring thaw, but I’ll keep checking on them.

Otherwise, it was just a nice afternoon out in the woods, checking out the fresh tracks in the new snow. Which includes, for the first time in a few years, lynx tracks. I’ll have to get a trail cam or two out there.


Denali Fault Quake

Photo credit: Daily News-Miner

This week is the 17 year anniversary of the 2002 Denali Earthquake. At a magnitude of 7.9, to date, it is the largest quake I have personally experienced.

On 23 October 2002, the Denali Fault released a magnitude 6.7 quake. That would be a foreshock of what was to come on November 3.

Highway Shift; Richardson Highway, circa 2002

After the 6.7, I remember the Alaska Earthquake Center saying that the Denali Fault was capable of producing an 8.0. Sure enough, the fault came very close.

I was at an intersection in my ’66 Chevy C-20. All of a sudden, the truck was lurching all over the place, and I found it hard to stay on the brake pedal. There were two university students in the next lane, the passenger rolled down his window and asked what the hell was happening. I said, “Earthquake”. He then promptly hit the driver on the arm and said, “I told you it was an earthquake”.

The light changed, I drove on, but had to stop at the next light. The earth was still shaking. An elderly couple had been walking on the sidewalk, and the wife fell to the concrete, the husband was struggling to stay upright by hugging a signpost. Then the shaking was over. I rolled down the other window, to see if the couple was all right. They were, and I headed home to see if there was any damage.

The quake had ruptured 205 miles of earth along three different, yet connected faults in Interior Alaska. It was the largest ever recorded in Alaska’s Interior. It was the largest inland quake North America had seen in almost 150 years.

Both the Parks & Richardson Highways saw major damage. The Trans-Alaska Pipeline moved sideways 18 feet, and rose 5 feet. The engineers had designed for the fault, and the pipeline behaved exactly as it was designed to behave. Although, it did come within two feet of its sideways movement limit.

The Denali Earthquake was felt as far away as Louisiana.

Previously, the largest earthquake Fairbanks had experienced was a magnitude 7.3 in 1937.


Revisiting “Normal”

Halloween saw the fourth year in a row where Fairbanks officially had an inch of snowpack. Trick or Treat without bunny boots? The world is in chaos. By the end of the weekend, three inches of snow lay on top of our ice-coated roads.

Sunday morning saw the return of below zero to The Valley. Monday morning, my thermometer read -10F. It’s damn well about time. For those Outside, I’m sure excitement for below zero seems a bit mad, but Interior Alaska is built for below zero. For those who like to stay in the positive, the high temp made it to the mid-teens above.

This isn’t going to help with Alaska’s lack of sea ice. Utqiagvik, on the Arctic coast was above freezing, as was Nome.

But the Interior is at last making ice. For the moment, at least.


Taku Glacier & the Juneau Ice Field

The Juneau Ice Field, as seen from the air

The Juneau Ice Field is located just north of Alaska’s capital city. The ice field covers 1500 square miles, more than a third larger than Rhode Island, and stretches from Alaska across the border into British Columbia. The ice field is home to over 40 large glaciers and more than 100 smaller glaciers. The Juneau Ice Field has been one of the most studied in the world, with the Juneau Ice Field Research Project being conducted annually since 1946.

Taku Glacier, as seen across the Taku River

One of the most talked about glaciers within the Juneau Ice Field has been Taku Glacier. It has been the last advancing glacier within the ice field. It’s “mass balance” has been in the positive; it has been gaining more snow during the coarse of a year than it has lost in melt.

Taku Glacier from the air

Taku is the thickest measured glacier in Alaska. It is considered a high elevation glacier, which has helped it maintain the title of an advancing glacier.

That designation has officially come to an end. With the increasingly warm temperatures that Alaska has been experiencing over the past decade plus, the Taku Glacier is now retreating.

When Taku has calved in the past, it has sent icebergs into the Juneau harbor. Massive calving events would not only send icebergs to Juneau, but also into the Inside Passage.

When Columbia Glacier in Prince William Sound started its retreat, sending icebergs into The Sound, the State of Alaska was forced to create an ice-watch program for oil tankers and cruise ships.

Taku Glacier is twice the size of Columbia.


Pineapple Express

There was a time when I really enjoyed hearing terms like “Pineapple Express” and looked forward to a warm “Chinook” wind blowing through the area.

Now they comes with such frequency, that the deep freeze has replaced them as the rare events in the state.

A Pineapple Express came through Alaska over the weekend. Fairbanks saw rain and temps in the 40’sF. Our dusting of snow took a beating. The ice on The Pond has reverted back to slush.

Bethel on the western coast saw 53F on Sunday morning. The second highest temperature recorded this late in the year.

King Salmon reached 60F on Sunday, breaking their record for the warmest temperature this late in the year.

Not to be left out, McGrath in the Interior hit 50F, which tied their record set 7 years ago.

Utqiagvik on the Arctic Coast will see 38F on Monday, which will do absolutely nothing to help our utter lack of sea ice.

The times, they are a changing…


Methane Pocket

Walking blindly across ponds in the Interior of Alaska can lead to wet feet, and sometimes much worse.

Methane being released from the pond bottom, causes the ice to thin directly above the pocket of methane. With no snow to speak of right now, the pockets are easy to find. This one has caused a perfect hole to form in the ice.