With the warmer weather and midnight sun comes the arrival of another summer anomaly: The Tourist. In March and April, we shared the roads with new tour bus drivers, who were learning how to drive while sharing Alaska tidbits over the bus loudspeaker.
Last week, I spotted the first full tour bus in Fairbanks. The bus had traveled the Parks Highway from Denali National Park. The swans, geese and cranes have been here for a few weeks, and now the tourists join the gaggle.
To add insult to injury, for those of us who are accustomed to seeing moose along the roadside, Sunday was National Tourist Day. Where did that celebration come from? Or, is that day, considered a warning? Time to prepare for the inevitable sudden stops for wildlife viewing.
As much as I love having them around, they are still just a moose! Alaska Tip: Pull off the roadway completely before stopping to gawk. The resident behind you will appreciate the effort.
There is a lot of snow on the ground still. Anywhere from 12-18″ of depth, but the 50F degrees this past weekend has put the melt on. Lots of sun right now too:
Length of day: 16 hrs, 53 mins
Length of visible light: 19 hrs, 17 mins
Today will be 6 mins and 59 secs longer than yesterday.
The beavers have open water in front of their lodge, which happens for two reasons. Their swimming back and forth helps to keep the ice thinner, but there is also a methane release point in the same location, which helps to do the same thing. In fact, the circles of diminished ice in the background, are also methane pockets.
Yesterday was the 59th anniversary of Alaska’s Good Friday Earthquake. The above photo from the Alaska Digital Archives show the rail line north of Seward after the 9.2 magnitude quake struck South-central Alaska.
The storm that took over the Alaskan skies last night was pretty impressive. The entire sky lit up to the point that the snow on the ground glowed green.
I heard that last night’s magnetic storm was rated a Kp7. The Kp index rates the magnitude of a geomagnetic disturbance. A 0, 1 or 2 is considered “Quiet”. A Kp3 is “Unsettled”. Kp4 = “Active”. Kp5 is a “Minor Storm” G1. Kp6 is a “Moderate Storm” G2, while last night’s Kp7 is considered a “Strong Storm” G3. Kp8 and Kp9 top the index as “Severe Storm” G4 and “Extreme Storm” G5, respectively.
There are some really incredible images out there online from last night’s Strong Storm. The two here are only cell phone images, and they do not do the aurora justice. It was really a phenomenal show. As you can see, we were not limited to just the green northern lights, but quite a bit of red was visible to the naked eye.
The skies were crystal clear, as expected, with temps dipping down to -32F at the cabin. I can’t wait to see if we get a second round tonight.
A magnetic storm is headed our way from the sun, which should offer great aurora viewing Sunday and Monday. Hopefully the clear skies hang around tonight. With a forecast of -20F, I am assuming we will have the all clear for the aurora.
There was a somewhat unexpected traveler through downtown Fairbanks on Wednesday. A wolf was spotted alongside a major road in town. Wolves tend to not seek the social media limelight, so they are not often spotted in town. I have seen them outside of town on several occasions over the years, but never anywhere near town.
That said, the wolf was the talk of the town all day, although I was late to the party with my limited social media presence. Fish & Game officials believe the wolf came down the Chena River and took a sight seeing tour of the town. They were keeping tabs on the wolf’s whereabouts, but remaining mum.
The Nenana Basin lies southwest of Fairbanks. The Parks Highway runs along its eastern boundary, and the Tanana River runs right through the middle of it. The basin is 56 miles long and 7.5 miles wide. Over the course of millions of years, the basin has been filled in with river sediment. Considering that the basin is 4 miles deep (7km), that is a lot of fill.
Several entities have been drilling test holes throughout the basin looking for oil and gas, so the University of Alaska – Fairbanks has been studying the basin’s makeup. One thing they found is that earthquakes last longer and feel a lot stronger in the basin, than just outside the basin.
The shockwaves from an earthquake travel differently through the sediment, which is mostly gravel, than the solid rock along the ridge lines. Reverberation also plays a roll here: The seismic waves are amplified by the basin walls and floor.
Seismic sensors have verified what local residents have been claiming: The shaking is a lot worse down in The Flats than up in the hills.
Source credit: Alaska Public Media, University of Alaska – Fairbanks
I’ve been out at Poker Flats, which is outside Fairbanks, on several occasions when they were launching weather balloons. These days, most weather balloons are filled and launched by robotic launchers called autosondes, which takes some of the romance out of weather balloons, but that’s not the purpose of this post.
In the United States alone, there are 92 sites that launch two balloons every day of the year. There are over 800 locations worldwide doing the exact same thing. Here in Alaska, we have 13 sites that launch weather balloons twice a day, every day, and always at the same time: Midnight and noon Greenwich Mean Time.
A small collection of weather instruments, called a radiosonde is attached to the balloon which collects data and transmits that data back to the NWS as it rises. A weather balloon makes it to roughly 100,000 feet before it pops and falls back to earth. These days, radio balloons are highly biodegradable.
The first weather balloon with a radiosonde launched from Fairbanks in 1933. They started launching two balloons a day in 1941. I’ll let you do the math, but no matter how you figure it, that’s a lot of balloons.
We often see test vehicles roaming our roads in the winter, although these stood out more than most. The first time I saw them, there was an entire convoy in line, but since then it’s been mostly in small groups.
Amazon is in Fairbanks testing their new EV delivery vans. This is probably not the winter to give an EV a thorough cold weather test, as it has been one of the milder winters I have experienced. Still, Amazon is having a go at it, and it should be a good test for how they handle on icy roads.
The Yukon Quest Sled Dog Race starts on Saturday morning from downtown Fairbanks. The race, 550 miles long, is roughly half the distance from what it was pre-pandemic. Gone is the international flavor of the race, with Alaska and The Yukon going their separate ways.
In addition to the 550, there will also be a 300 mile run and an 80 mile youth mush.
Only time will tell if the race can survive without the international aspect of the Whitehorse – Fairbanks cooperation.