We were in the calm between the storms when I took this photo. It gives a good look at life on Alaska’s tundra. The airstrip for the village is in the background, with the hanger, housing the grader/snowplow, on the horizon. A plane had not been able to land for several days, and it would be several more before one came in. People were going about their business: walking or riding a four wheeler or snowmachine. Dogs roamed about, on their own personal business, as well. “Bear”, my seemingly constant canine companion, was sitting in the snow at my side, taking in all the action with me.
It’s been a warm winter so far for Interior Alaska. The low temp for this winter season was officially -29F at the airport. At this same point last year, we already had seen two weeks worth of -30 or colder. We have not hit that mark yet, although I have seen a few -30F degree mornings at the cabin.
The winter started out with some decent dumpings of snow, but that tap has been turned off since mid-November. We have had a total of 5″ since November 16. That is well below the average of 22.4″ during that period. The record snow over that same time frame is 86.8″, which fell during the 1970-71 season.
Anchorage and Fairbanks combined have had 8/10 of an inch of snow over the past two weeks. By comparison, and I’m enjoying this, several towns in Texas have had more snow the past two weeks: Austin with 1.3″; Midland: 3.2″; Waco: 4″; College Station: 4.5″; Lubbock: a whopping 7.6″! Congrats on the snow.
October started out fantastically mild. Fairbanks even saw three consecutive days over 60F, which is quite rare. As in, three times in the past 100 years, rare. The high temps have consistently been 10-15 degrees above average.
For the next week, lows are looking to be in the low to mid teens, and highs hovering around freezing. I think The Pond will remain coated with ice until the spring. Of course, we can certainly hope for some strong Chinook Winds, which drive our temps upward.
It’s the first day of autumn in the Northern Hemisphere, although to be perfectly honest, we are well underway up here in Interior Alaska. The colors have definitely peaked already, and over half of the leaves are now on the ground.
I had an unscheduled day off on Monday. A job cancelled on Friday, and there wasn’t enough time, or ambition, to schedule something else in its place. It’s unusual for me to get a nice day on an unscheduled day off, and Monday was an absolutely beautiful fall day up here.
So I spent the afternoon hiking the seemingly, endless system of trails that start at my deck. I saw only one other person and her dog at the start of the hike, and after that it was only the grouse, red squirrels, a couple of moose and myself.
The woods were mostly silent, with only the occasional scolding from a squirrel, or the pre-flush clucking of a grouse. Even the trail, loaded with a carpet of leaves, allowed me to pass with barely a sound: Only a faint rustling was left in my wake.
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.
Alaska saw its first 80F degree day on Saturday, as Ketchikan hit the mark. Juneau hit 76F degrees, which was a record high for the date, and Fairbanks saw 70F degrees for the first time on Saturday.
The warm air mass brought 80F degrees into Alaska’s Interior on Sunday, which made for the years’s first 80 degree day for Fairbanks. This is four weeks earlier than the average first 80 degree day. It is the second earliest on record.
Sitka and Yakutat also saw high temps on Mother’s Day.
90F degrees is not in the forecast for Monday.
Utqiagvik Sea Ice Cam
The sun rose over the village of Utqiagvik at 2:46 am ADT on Sunday, it will set in 85 days. The village also set a record high temp of 36F.
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.
Fairbanks officially received 8.9″ of the white stuff from Sunday night to Monday afternoon. That’s 13″ for the month of March, and more on the way for Wednesday. It looks to be our snowiest March since 1991.
On the ground, we officially have 32″ of snow. At the cabin, I have more than that, and in the hills above Fairbanks, there is certainly even more yet.
For the outdoor enthusiast, the snow is a boon for social distancing. No staying inside, when one can find a trail, or make your own.
There is something quite impressive about a Southwestern Alaska blizzard. We were out at the far end of the village, when our local guide told us that we had 15 minutes left to take cover. He had become incredibly reliable with his predictions, and we had already used up 3/4 of an hour from his first warning call. He had been counting down regularly after that first one.
Visibility had been shortened considerably, and it was obvious that we needed to take cover soon. Even Bear, our furry, four-legged companion, had left us to take his own cover at the 30 minute warning mark.
One side of the church…
… and the other side of the church after the storm.
By sunset, one could hardly see the closest building to you. The wind howled over, under and around the building that housed us. It was simply put: Intense. I can’t think of any time I have experienced such fierce winds. In Fairbanks, we rarely see much wind, the colder it gets, the calmer it gets. Out here in Newtok was a totally different animal. Which meant that we spent far too much time outside reveling in the chaos.
The next day, the kids were climbing up snow drifts against a couple of connex units and running the length of them, then launching off into the massive piles of snow. Backflips were par for the course.
Trails that we had been walking, now had steep drops, only to have us climb back up the other side.
We flew in on a Wednesday, and due to weather, another flight didn’t land at Newtok for the next 8 days. Weather permitting, Grant Aviation makes 2-3 flights per day.