Tag Archives: weather

Autumnal Equinox

The peak has passed in the Interior

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.


Wet & Green

The ridge line above Blueberry Lake

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.


Eighty

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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.

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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

Alaska’s Big Five; Chapter Five:

 

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.

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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.

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Finally Forty

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There is a creek somewhere under all of that snow.

The high temp in Fairbanks was 46F on Saturday.  It was the first time we had hit 40 degrees since October 28.

 

 


Got Snow?

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Breaking trail with the snowshoes

Interior Alaska does.  

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.


Blizzard!

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The Newtok store after the storm

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.

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One side of the church…

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… 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.


Ignore at your own peril

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Forty Below brings calls about frozen pipes when you work construction.  I’m not a plumber by trade, but when Fairbanks hits a cold snap, there are not enough plumbers or heating guys in the north for all of the calls.  I don’t go out of my way to do these jobs, but if one of my regulars tracks me down, I’m not going to give them the cold shoulder.

The pictured cat belongs to one of my regular customers, and she does not like to be ignored.  This was not the first time I’ve ignored this cat, only to have it leap upon my back, or shoulder, or use my leg as a scratching post.  A thick work shirt is required here.

The cat is a curious creature: always fascinated with the work I’m doing, the tools of the job, and the materials needed.  A newly opened wall is an invitation to a new adventure, and a ladder, of any kind, causes a race to the top.

The house also comes with a dog.  The dog is not curious.  In fact, the dog is a bit of a coward.  Any work I do, sends it off shivering to the farthest corner of the house from where I’m working.  The shivering often comes with a lot of whining.  In the summer, I can let the dog outside, but at Forty Below, I’m stuck with the high pitched soundtrack coming from the corner.

First time in my life I find myself less of a dog-person.

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Alaska was warm in 2019

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Graph by ACCAP/@AlaskaWx

Across the state, Alaskan cities and villages saw their warmest year ever recorded.  Utqiagvik, Kotzebue, Fairbanks, Anchorage, Bethel, Kodiak and Cold Bay, all saw record warmth in 2019 as a whole.  For the first time since recording began, Fairbanks had an average temperature above freezing.

Juneau had a record number of days of 70F or higher, which was enough to give the capital city their third warmest year.

Across the state we set 326 new record highs, as opposed to just 12 record lows.

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Graph credit: NOAA, ACCAP, @AlaskaWx

Statewide, Alaska had 87% of its days above normal, with only 13% of days with below normal temps.  Normal is based on 1981-2010 averages.

The tail end of December did see a dip in temps, at least in the Interior and northern regions.  Sea ice has finally started to extend, although the amount is still lower than what we had at this point in 2019.

The temperature at the Anchorage International Airport fell to -10F on Sunday morning.  That is the first time Anchorage has seen minus ten in 3 years.


55 Degree Swing

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Overflow on Goldstream Creek

Last Friday morning the temp at the cabin was -30F.  On Tuesday morning the temp was +25F.  So as many in the Lower 48 experience cooler temps, we in Interior Alaska are back in sweatshirts.  In fact, I even saw someone breaking out the shorts on Tuesday.

I haven’t gone that far yet, but I do have at least one open window.