This summer, Fairbanks has seen its 7th wettest since 1925. With 12.6″ of rain recorded as of last Friday, climatologists tell us that we are on a new trend. The typical summer rainfall is now 30% higher than in the 1920’s-1930’s. Juneau also saw its 6th wettest summer in 96 years. That’s saying something about our very wet capital city.
Fairbanks also had 19 days with thunder, which tied a record. We were 3.6 degrees warmer than average, which puts 2020 in the Top Ten, since recording began. Much of the change came in the rise of nightly low temperatures, due to the rain and cloud cover.
Officially, Fairbanks had a growing season of 130 days in 2020. That ties us for the 7th longest. Since 1950, the growing season in Fairbanks has increased by 16 days.
Wildfires burned a total of 181,000 acres in Alaska for the season so far. That is the lowest total since 2002. For one season, at least, wildfire crews did not have to worry about hotshotting into the Alaskan Bush. They have more than enough on their plate, as it is, in 2020.
Dall Sheep, Ovis Dalli dalli, can be found throughout Alaska’s mountain ranges. Dall Sheep prefer relatively dry country, their territory is the open alpine ridges, mountain meadows and steep slopes. They like to keep an extremely rugged “escape terrain” close at hand, and are not often found below tree line.
The rams are known for their massive curling horns. The ewes have shorter, more slender and less curved horns. The males live in groups and seldom interact with the females until breeding season, which is in December.
Lambs are born in late May to early June. Ewes usually reach breeding age at 3-4, and have one lamb each year after that. The lambs are most vulnerable during their first 30-45 days of life, and mortality rate is high during this time. Wolves, black & brown bears and golden eagles are the main predators.
Dall sheep horns grow steadily from early spring to late fall, but tend to slow, if not stop growing altogether, during the winter months. This leaves growth rings on the horns called annuli. These growth rings can help identify the age of Dall Sheep. In the wild, 12 years of age is considered old for a Dall Sheep, but rams have been identified as high as 16, and ewes up to 19 years of age. A Dall Sheep ram can weigh up to 300 pounds, with the ewes being about half that weight.
Between 1990 – 2010, Dall Sheep numbers had dropped by 21%, from 56,740 to 45,010. Numbers started increasing up until 2013, when a later than average snowfall put a damper on recovery efforts. Dry, heavy snow loads appear to have little effect on sheep population, but the heavy, wet snowfalls, with a frozen crust can make foraging and travel difficult. Freezing rain has also become more prevalent. All of these factors contribute to more avalanches, which have become a significant cause of death for Dall Sheep in the state.
2019 is already starting off with colder weather than anything we saw in 2018. In fact, 2018 was the 6th warmest year on record for Fairbanks.
A low temp of 33F was recorded several times during the winter of 2017-18. That low temp of 33 in January & February was a tie for the second warmest low temp on record.
The high temp for all of 2018 was 88F on 22 July.
2018 was also wet, which comes as no surprise. It was the fifth year in a row that Fairbanks saw substantially above average precipitation. Last winter, Fairbanks had 70.6″ of snowfall, which is only slightly higher than average. We really added to that with some wetter than normal summer months.
Three out of the past five years (2014, 2016, 2018) make the top ten warmest on record.
Lower Post, British Columbia; Photo credit: CBC/Danni Carpenter
The Alaska Highway has been closed due to an aggressive fire just south of the Yukon border in British Columbia. The community of Lower Post, BC has been evacuated. The town of Watson Lake is taking in displaced residents and stranded travelers.
The fire, which is believed to have been started by lightening, is approximately 4000 hectares in size. There were 14 firefighters and an air tanker working the fire as of the last update. Heavy equipment is currently being used to protect the community of Lower Post. The fire is not contained, and the highway is expected to be closed for several days. The road is closed at KM 823 near Coal River to KM 968 near the Yukon border.
The Alaska Highway has also been closed at KM 133 near Wonowan, BC and KM 454 near Fort Nelson, as well as between Fort Nelson and the Laird River.
Travelers can still drive to/from the Yukon using the Stewart Cassiar Highway. It’s a route I highly recommend! Absolutely beautiful country, but the services are even more limited than on the Alcan. I once took the Cassiar while driving a ’73 VW Beetle, so don’t be discouraged, although I suggest bringing an extra five gallons of fuel.
We are in a wet, bubble up here in Alaska, so the news that the Alcan is closed due to fire, came as a bit of a surprise. We had an inch of rain at my place yesterday alone, and the high on Saturday was 55 degrees. Our normal high this time of year is in the low 70’s. Currently, August 2018 has seen 3.54″ of rain fall in Fairbanks, which stands at the 10th wettest August on record.
Alaska had 399,000 acres burn this fire season, which is lower than the past three years. The total is 40% lower than the median over the past two decades.
The images from the Houston area leave one awestruck, and emotionally raw. For someone in the subarctic, 50 inches of rain from one storm is simply hard to fathom.
Fairbanks has seen its own floods, and I’ve written here before of the ’67 Flood, but the devastation in the Houston area is massive, and the recovery will be long and drawn out.
Still, there is hope. Numerous stories are coming out of the area showing the kindness and bravery of strangers helping strangers. We do seem to save our very best for times of disaster.
When it comes to aid organizations, I have no idea which ones get the most bang for the buck, or which ones have the highest “internal expenses”. I did see a post from JJ Watt, the All-Pro defenseman for the Houston Texans. His foundation has a track record of helping people out in their time of need. I posted his video above, and his link will be below. In spite of the fact that Watt is a former Badger, I’m guessing this son of a firefighter will get some bang out of the bucks donated.
From Sunday morning to Monday afternoon, my rain gauge totaled 1.9″. That’s a fair amount of precipitation for us in the Interior.
On Friday, we saw the mercury rise to 90 degrees, on Tuesday morning, I found a layer of ice on my truck’s bed cover. ICE!
One never knows what’s around the corner up here. Which, of course, is half the fun.
After all of this rain, things are starting to give. A large mudslide has closed the Denali Park Road in The Park. The slide, at Mile 67 of the park road, is 100 feet wide and 10 feet deep. The six inches of rain in the past week, on top of what already fell in June and July, was too much for the ancient volcanic ash in the soil.
Park employees remind folks that there is no cell coverage out at Wonder Lake and Kantishna, and only a few of the lodges have a land line, so people stranded on the west side of the slide will have a much needed, if not appreciated, break from smart phones and internet.
I hiked several of the trails around Flamingo. They offered mangrove forests, coastal plaines, rivers of grass, hammocks, and wildlife galore.
Christian Point Trail was one that I tackled. 1.8 miles one way, and it was not being maintained. There were no cars at the trail head, which sealed the deal.
Bring DEET. Lots and lots of DEET.
I had not brought along my REI Jungle Juice, but if I didn’t wash my hands after applying the stuff I bought, my steering wheel would deteriorate, so I figured it was acceptable. And it did work… at first.
At the start, the trail goes through some very thick vegetation, and it was in the low 80’s. I have no idea what the humidity was, mainly because I had no interest in knowing. As I perspired, the DEET was diluted, and the horde of blood suckers were on me. I briefly thought of stopping, getting the bug dope out of my pack and reapplying, but just a short pause was enough to deter such thoughts. I quickened my pace, and hoped that the coastal plain was near.
*A side note: this was the last time the bug dope was not in one of my pockets.
The country opens up
There were butterflies everywhere, and occasionally I would spot a dragonfly. Probably 10 to 1. Butterflies are all right to look at, but dragonflies are beautiful… especially when one is hunting down a mosquito. I am so attached to dragonflies, that I feel awful when I hit one with my truck in Alaska. With every windshield fatality, I figure 10,000 mosquitos just flew free.
I could see the vegetation lessen and feel the air heat up even more. Suddenly, I broke the barrier and ran for the sunlight. The horde would not follow, but it could afford to wait patiently.
I enjoyed hiking the coastal plain, in spite of the heat. The lack of mosquitos allowed me to slow down and enjoy the unusual country I was hiking through. Little geckos or small lizards were everywhere. The vegetation was surprisingly thick and green, but the vast majority of it did not come up to my knees.
The Prize at the end of the trail: Florida Bay
The vegetation suddenly thickened, but there were no mosquitos. The trail ended at a small opening, looking out at Florida Bay. There was no beach, just some soggy earth, then the ocean. There was a bench with a resident gecko. He allowed me to join him, and I ate some lunch, drank a quart of water and stalled. I had suffered for this view, and I was going to take it in. What a relaxing spot.
Heading back, I crossed a desolate patch of earth that at one time must have been a water hole. I spotted a hermit crab in the thick brush, then I thought I saw a land crab move from under a chunk of log.
Then I spotted the corpses. I don’t know how I missed them the first time, although I was taking a slightly different track across the dried up earth. The ground was littered with the corpses of crabs. I assume that they came out en masse when this was still standing water after the rains. Then they were found: gulls, crows, vultures? I don’t know. Maybe all of those and others. But it was a feast.