An undersea volcano erupted Saturday near the island of Tonga. The satellite imagery above is pretty intense, and the ash plume reached 20km above the earth.
Tsunami alerts were put out almost immediately, and the island of Tongatapu had waves flooding into the capital.
The tsunami reached Alaska’s southern coast this morning, with King Cove recording the highest waves at 3.3 feet.
That wasn’t the only wave to hit Alaska from the eruption. The shock wave of the event caused a drastic air pressure change over the state as well.
Can you hear a volcano erupt from almost 6000 miles away? It turns out that you can. Many people, who were up between 3:30-4:00 am on Saturday reported hearing a sonic boom. It’s telling that many Alaskans initially reported being awaken by a large boom, and most of them assumed it was a “moose on the porch”. Various infrasound recorders placed around the state by Alaska Volcano Observatory confirmed that the sound heard was the volcanic pressure wave, not a moose.
I find that absolutely fascinating.
A second eruption pressure wave traveled over Anchorage 19.3 hours after the first wave, traveling in the opposite direction.
As of this writing, details of the damage remained sketchy at best. It is known that waves entered Tonga’s capital, and that a thick layer of volcanic ash was dumped on the island. No deaths have been reported at this time, and it is not known how many islands have seen damage from tsunamis or ash fall. Tonga’s internet service, much like Alaska, is served via undersea cables. It is thought that those cables were damaged in the eruption.
New Zealand has sent military aircraft to Tonga to assess the damage.
I had several friends travel Outside over the Holidays, while I was quite content to enjoy the cabin life in Fairbanks. Getting out wasn’t the problem. It was getting back to Alaska which has proved challenging. Most friends had layovers in Seattle, which were long enough to officially be reclassified as detours. One had a detour in Anchorage; getting oh so close to Fairbanks, but yet divided by a mountain of snow.
Two friends attempted to travel from Arizona to Fairbanks. There was a detour in Seattle, followed by a last minute flight to Anchorage. A second detour was then encountered. All flights between Alaska’s largest cities were booked out for days. Determined to get home, they booked a ride on the Alaska Railroad. I was excited for them, probably more excited than they were. I have never ridden that set of rails in the winter.
Out of the blue, I received a text from them. They were in Denali Park. “How long is this ride?” they asked. I hesitated, but eventually told them it was a 12 hour trip. One way. The Alaska Railroad is not high speed travel.
Late on New Year’s Day, I get a call. Taxis from the depot are three hours out. It’s -35F, but I head out the door to provide pickup/limo service.
The locomotive did look good, all decked out in Christmas lights.
For the past 4-5 days, I’ve been amused by the local weather forecast. Monday and Tuesday of this week have been drawing a lot of attention for a coming “heat wave”. The extended forecast even had a sizzling HOT! for the two days, complete with an image of a blazing Sun and bright red heat waves radiating up from it. Weather forecasters couldn’t contain their excitement.
The forecast calls for a high of 82F degrees on both days.
Quite the scorcher.
On Friday, Fairbanks saw a high of 80 degrees for the 11th time this season, which historically, is the average number for a summer. In 2020, Fairbanks had only three days where we hit 80F for the entire season.
It should be noted that Anchorage residents have also been complaining about the heat. They saw a high of 78F on Saturday, and people were scrambling up into the Chugach Mountains to find snow. Anchorage hit 80F on Sunday, which was the third day in a row for them having a record high temp. In the past 70 years, Anchorage has seen 80F degrees only 37 times.
The Potter Section House State Historical Site is now home to the Chugach State Park visitor center. The building was built in 1929, and was used to house section workers for this part of the Alaska Railroad. Originally, there were four section houses along the Anchorage section of the railroad. Their use was discontinued in 1978, and the Potter House is the last remaining of the four. It was listed on National Register of Historic Places in 1985.
A rotary snowplow that once cleared the tracks along Turnagain Arm is also on display at Potter House. The railroad car behind the snowplow, is home to the Kenai Visitor Center. Both visitor centers have been closed due to the pandemic, and remain closed.
The section along Turnagain Arm is notorious for avalanche, although today the avalanches are planned events. Back in the day, the rotary plow revolutionized track clearing. The plow’s steel teeth cut through even the most packed snow, as well as debris from an avalanche, and the occasional frozen moose. The snow was launched from the chute hundreds of feet off the track. Two steam engines pushed the plow, with a crew of seven.
This particular rotary plow was retired in 1985, in favor of track mounted bulldozers. The Alaska Railroad still maintains one rotary snowplow in reserve.
Chugach State Park, just outside of Anchorage, covers 495,204 acres. It is the third largest state park in the United States, and the second largest in Alaska. It is truly, one of Alaska’s many gems.
Saturday, March 27 was the 57th Anniversary of the 1964 Good Friday Earthquake that hit south-central Alaska. The 9.2 magnitude earthquake struck at 5:36 pm AST, and the earth shook for the next 4 minutes and 28 seconds. Witnesses say that the earth roared like a freight train for that entire time.
The epicenter was 78 miles from Anchorage in Prince William Sound. It was a relatively shallow quake, with a depth of roughly 15 miles. 131 people were killed due to the earthquake, with 122 of the deaths due to the resulting tsunamis.
Seward, Kodiak, Valdez, Chenega, were all hit by tsunamis. Shoup Bay was hit by the largest tsunami with a wave height of 220 feet.
In the first 24 hours after the main shaker, there were 11 aftershocks over 6.0, with another nine over the following three weeks. Thousands of aftershocks hit the area over the next year.
Anchorage made a go at it, I have to admit. They had been putting together an impressive run of days at, or below, freezing. Not Fairbanks, impressive, but impressive none the less. The record for Anchorage was, and still is, 59 days below 32F. The run ended at 58 days. Oh, so close!
The area north of the Brooks Range has the best grip on below freezing streaks, hitting 250 days of 32F or below.
Potter Marsh Bird Sanctuary is a 564 acre fresh water marsh, located at the southern end of the Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge.
The marsh was created in 1917 when the embankment for the Alaska Railroad was built up, effectively separating the fresh water from the Chugach Mountains, and the salt water from Turnagain Arm.
Potter Marsh is often called the most accessible wildlife viewing location in Alaska. The marsh is easily reached by the Seward Highway, and it contains a 1550 foot long boardwalk to keep your feet dry.
This wetland maze sees roughly 130 species of migratory and nesting birds calling it home, for at least part of the year. Moose, beavers, muskrats, eagles and hawks all can be viewed at Potter Marsh. Spawning salmon are often seen swimming up Rabbit Creek from Turnagain Arm in season.
Both brown bear and black bear use the marsh, but they are very rarely seen here. Consider yourself very lucky if you spot a bruin moving through the wetland.
Rail service was just another casualty in Alaska from Covid-19. With no tourists last summer, rail service took a huge hit within the state.
The Alaska Railroad has already announced increased service on all of their routes. Service between Anchorage and Fairbanks will double: 2020 had only four trains per week, while 2021 will see a total of eight. Every day of the week will see either a northbound or southbound run, and Sundays will see both.
Flagstop service will return to the Anchorage-Fairbanks route, which allows riders to get on or off anywhere along to route to access remote cabins and homesteads. The Alaska Railroad is the only train service in the United States that still provides flagstop service.
It’s been an odd year, all the way around, but especially with the weather. Fairbanks had a dusting of snow last week, but nothing measurable. Anchorage had measurable snow before we did.
Juneau beat both Fairbanks and Anchorage for the season’s first freeze. Juneau! That’s just not right.
So winter is coming for Fairbanks. Even though 2-3 inches of snow is hardly much to get excited over, at least it’s a start. Denali Park & Black Rapids are at least looking to get a good jump on the season.
I guess I’m ready for snow. Let it fall.
Graphics credit: National Weather Service – Fairbanks