Tag Archives: heat

Kenai Burning

The view from the Parks Highway: McKinley Fire

The road to Seward had an unexpected gauntlet north of the town of Willow, Alaska. Severe winds had knocked over a power pole, and the resulting sparks set off a wildfire along the Parks Highway.

The winds were still howling when we went through. Firefighters were on the scene, but things didn’t look good. By the time we made it to Anchorage, we learned that the fire had made the jump, and both sides of the road had flames. The Parks had been closed to traffic behind us.

A smokey Seward Harbor

The high winds continued on the Kenai Peninsula, as we drove south on the Seward Highway. The Swan Lake Fire had been all but contained, but the winds gave it a breath of new life, which closed the Sterling Highway, and left the taste of burning spruce in all of our throats.

Out on Resurrection Bay: Looking back at Seward Harbor

Once on the water, the smoke diminished some, but we didn’t really escape it until we were out in the Gulf of Alaska.

To date, Seward had seen 2.25″ of rain, which is unheard of. They normally see 64″ in a year. The town of Homer had been hit even harder still, with only 1.15″ of rain this season. Needless to say, the Kenai Peninsula is seeing drought conditions.

The fishing was good, and at times great. There was no rain in the foreseeable forecast, so no one had rain jackets. The temps were in the 70’s F, and we all ended up fishing in short sleeves. Out of all my trips to Alaska’s coast to fish, this one may have been the most surreal.


Cooler thoughts


The ice climbing wall at UAF; Camera: Leica M3, Lens: 135mm, Film: Fuji Superia 800

With the extension of these unusually warm temps here in Interior Alaska, let’s go back to this past March, when snow was on the ground, and the UAF students were climbing the ice wall on campus.


“Gasoline on a Stick”

One reason the Shovel Creek Fire has been such a persistent pain for firefighters and locals alike, is that much of the forested area surrounding Murphy Dome is saturated with black spruce. The resins in the black spruce makes the trees highly flammable; once flames hit the boughs, the flames race up the tree with amazing ferocity and speed. A wildfire can double in size very quickly. That is why black spruce has earned the nick-name: “Gasoline on a Stick”.


A firefighting crew on Old Murphy Dome Road, fighting the Shovel Creek Fire; Photo credit: AKFireInfo

The past few days have been brutal, air quality-wise. Fairbanks was way past double the unhealthy level of particulates in the air, and the Murphy Dome area was way past triple on Wednesday. The smoke has been bad enough for my UPS driver to show up wearing a dust mask this week.
Rain is on everyone’s mind, but the forecast is for more lightning than rain drops this coming weekend.

This season, 1.28 million acres have been burned by wildfires. That’s one Rhode Island, every 10 days.

For the first time since records have been kept, NOAA analysis has the July-June (2018-2019) average temperature for the entire state of Alaska at above freezing.


Someone waters the flowers

An evening walk, with friends, through Pioneer Park. It was smokey, but at least the flowers were perky, if the walkers were not.

Fairbanks temps are going to hit 90F again on Tuesday, with a solid 88 degrees for the following day. The Shovel Creek Fire has gone over 12,000 acres, with 15% containment. It was so smokey on Sunday, that there was no air support for the firefighters due to the fact that the pilots could not see anything on the ground to dump water and/or retardant.

Some relief could be coming into the area on Thursday, with a possibility of rain, and a drop in temps back to 80. Thunderstorms are said to be part of the equation, but lightning is something no one in the Interior wants to see right now.


Alaskan Heat Dome


A huge upper-level high pressure has parked itself over much of southern Alaska; Graphic credit: TropicalTidbits.com

Record breaking temps hit the southern part of Alaska on July 4th. A large high pressure dome has planted itself over the state, and is moving very slowly north and east. Several communities in the southern part of the state have seen all time record high temperature records broken. Fairbanks probably won’t be seeing any all time records broken, but we are going to see temps in the upper 80’s within a day or two as the high pressure moves into our area. Just what we need with all the fires around the area.

Broken records:

Anchorage Merrill Field: 90F
King Salmon: 89F
Kenai: 89F
Illiamna: 86F

These are all-time record highs for our coastal areas; The Anchorage Bowl had never recorded 90 degrees before. When one thinks of King Salmon, you picture wet, rainy, cool weather as you fish for salmon. The coast could be breaking records for the next 5-6 days, as the high pressure takes its time moving out of the area.


Moose Snorts


Moose out for a swim

I spent one day this week, out in the sun, finishing up a rope bridge that I was commissioned to build. The decking of the bridge had been completed last fall, and now I was back to add the rope-work for the “railings”.

I heard the moose munching on willows long before I saw it. They are not quiet eaters. A shrub or tree would move, but it took quite some time for the moose to show itself. Oddly enough, it was when I was out on the bridge weaving the manila rope into place that the moose reacted. It kept snorting at me.

At first, I was a bit offended, taking the snorts as commentary on my work. However, I came to the conclusion, that the moose simply did not like me hovering in the air, at a height allowing me to look down on the moose. As I continued to work, the snorts were then followed by hoof stomps and another snort. It really did not like me out there on the bridge. Eventually, the moose had enough of my bridge building, and I heard it splash about in the pond behind the house. It had gone for a swim. It was a warm 75F degrees, and I couldn’t blame it.

Unfortunately, the pictures are pretty poor, as I only had the cellphone with me on the job site, and I’m shooting into the sun on top of it. I watched it swim around, and splash about the pond for a good 15 minutes, before I had to force myself back to work.


The Big Q: II

Comic credit: Nuggets by Jamie Smith


Temperature Inversions

We have been getting rain for much of the night here in the Interior of Alaska. As I get ready to turn in for the night, I noticed that we are currently 34 degrees warmer than Minneapolis, and 2 degrees warmer than San Antonio, Texas.


Seeing Red


Forecast for Alaska temperature difference from normal on Saturday. (WeatherBell.com)

No matter where one goes in town, everyone is talking about the weather. It’s hot. For Fairbanks, Alaska… it’s damn hot. Very few people are thrilled with it either.

Fairbanks is virtually assured that this month of December will be the warmest on record.


Fairbanks weather data through Dec. 19. National Weather Service

Every day this month, we have seen temperatures above normal. Throw out the first two days of the month, and we have been well above normal.

It hasn’t just been Fairbanks either, this has been statewide, which is saying something. Alaska is not a small state. On December 8, Juneau hit 54 degrees, which was warmer than Houston, Texas.
In the middle of the month, Anchorage saw 4 straight days of 45 degrees or higher, which was also a record.
Eagle, Alaska on the Yukon has been 23.5 degrees above normal for the month. Kotzebue, on the west coast, has tied record highs.

In Utqiaġvi, the community formerly known as Barrow, 74 out of the last 79 days have been above normal in temperature.


Big, red blob over Alaska; big, blue, hunk of cold over midwest (Wetherbell.com)

This weather pattern is freaky, even considering recent winters. It’s just too warm for us. The roads are a slick mess, and they will remain so all winter if we don’t go below zero. The rivers are often used as highways between villages, but they have not developed enough ice for travel. In spite of open windows, I still have been letting the fire go out for much of the day.

This is ridiculous. The Big Island of Hawaii not only is getting more snow on it’s peak, but temps there are colder than Anchorage. We want our winter back.


The World’s Smallest Carnivore

As I loaded the truck this morning for today’s job, I caught a flash of white out of the corner of my eye. I stood still, watching and waiting. Sure enough, a hyper, yet timid weasel showed itself from my wood pile. It made a rush at me, stopped halfway to size me up, then ran back to the stacked firewood. I kept watching, and the weasel became bolder, venturing out further and further from the wood pile. Eventually, I was ignored completely, and the weasel went about its morning activities, hopping onto a railroad tie, and then slipping down into the marsh.

I assume it’s a least weasel, and not the short tailed variety, due to its small size. It’s coat has already changed to all white, with the exception of it’s black-tipped tail. At approximately six inches long, the weasel is a little bundle of energy. I’ve never had a weasel in my wood shed, and I always felt like I was missing one of the most important aspects of burning wood for heat. I’ve had friends with a resident weasel, and Dick Proenneke famously wrote about his, which he named Milo, in his wonderful journal: “One Man’s Wilderness”. Of course, with a home territory of several acres, the weasel may have just been visiting the wood pile. Still, I’m hoping it takes up residence, even if that multi room condo will be decreasing in size as we progress through the winter months.

Weasels can be ferocious predators, and will take on animals much larger than themselves. With their high metabolic rate, weasels need to consume roughly 40% of their body weight daily.