A musher and dog team take the Chena River out of Fairbanks
The Yukon Quest Sled Dog Race started on Saturday morning. Fifteen teams left Fairbanks, with the goal of Whitehorse, Yukon Territory in 9 days, give or take.
It was a rather chilly morning to be hanging out on the Chena River to cheer the teams on their way, but several hundred people turned out to do just that. It was -25F when I left the cabin, and it must have been -30 down on the river ice. Everyone, including the dogs, were bundled up.
The 1000 mile race between Fairbanks and Whitehorse first started in 1984. A 1983 bull-session in the Bull’s Eye Saloon in Fairbanks, led to the race’s creation. Twenty-six teams left Fairbanks that first year. The winner, Sonny Linder, made it to Whitehorse in just over 12 days.
The Quest follows the historic gold rush routes between the Yukon and Alaska’s Interior, traveling frozen rivers and crossing four mountain ranges. Dawson City, YT is the half-way point. In even years, the race starts in Fairbanks, and in odd years the race starts in Whitehorse.
There are ten checkpoints and four dog drops, where dogs can be dropped off, but not replaced. Sleds can not be replaced without a penalty. The record run happened in 2010, when Hans Gatt finished in 9 days, 26 minutes. The slowest time happened in 1988, when Ty Halvorson completed the race in 20 days, 8 hours, 29 minutes.
It had been several years since I ventured into the Air Museum at Pioneer Park. Since they were experimenting with winter hours, I decided it was time to head back over there and see what was new.
Under The Dome: Inside the Air Museum
The Pioneer Air Museum houses a fairly extensive collection of aircraft and other artifacts mainly pertaining to Interior Alaska and Arctic aviation.
Ben Eielson Display
The first major display is on Ben Eielson, the famed aviator and Alaskan bush pilot. Eielson learned to fly in WWI, with the U.S Army Signal Corps. After the war, a chance run-in with Alaska’s territorial delegate to Congress, led to Eielson heading to Alaska to teach. By 1923, Eielson had started the Farthest North Aviation Company. Eielson was the first to fly air mail in Alaska, and the first to fly from North America over the North Pole to Europe.
In 1929, Eielson and his mechanic died in a plane crash in Siberia. The cargo ship Nanuk was frozen in sea ice off North Cape, and Eielson was contracted by expedition leader Olaf Swenson to fly out personnel and furs. The plane crashed in a storm, cruising at full throttle into the terrain. A faulty altimeter is the suspected cause of the crash. Parts of Eielson’s recovered aircraft is on display at the museum.
1935 Stinson SR-JR
This bright red Stinson SR-JR, the Spirit of Barter Island, came to Alaska in 1940, and was flying the Interior out of Fairbanks in 1953 for Interior Airways.
The Stinson in artwork
This SR-JR carries four passengers, has a cruising speed of 110mph, and a range of 450 miles. It was an Interior workhorse, and well known in the Fairbanks area. The image, “I Follow Rivers”, can be found on t-shirts around Fairbanks to this day.
Stinson V77: Peter Pan
The Stinson V77 is the Navy version of the SR-10 Reliant. “Peter Pan” flew the Kuskokwim and Yukon River mail runs. The Stinson Reliant was a favorite of bush pilots, as the aircraft was equally at ease landing on wheels, skis or floats. In 1949, “Peter Pan” made the flight from Bethel, Alaska to Boston, Mass. It is back in Alaska, on loan to the museum, from the bush pilot’s family.
1943 P-39 Wreckage
The P-39 Airacobra was a common sight in Alaska’s Interior during WWII, as it was a mainstay of lend-lease aircraft to the Soviets. This P-39 only made it to Fairbanks in pieces, as it was involved in a mid-air collision with another aircraft 60 miles east of Fairbanks. Both pilots survived the crash.
1942 ST Type Ryan PT-22
The PT-22 was used for flight training all over the globe. Over 14,000 Air Corps pilots trained in the PT-22. This particular PT-22 came to Fairbanks in 1956 after it was retired out of the military.
Manufactured by Bell Helicopter in 1966, this UH-1H “Huey”, saw combat in South Vietnam. During a mission in 1969, this UH-1H was hit by a rocket propelled grenade while landing. After the war, it came to Alaska, and was transferred around the Alaska Army bases, finally landing at Fort Wainwright in Fairbanks. It was retired in 1993, and is on loan to the museum from the U.S. Army. The “Huey” is still maintained by Army personnel.
Thomas Ackerman photo
A visitor to the museum several years ago, recognized the Huey’s ID number as the one he flew during the Vietnam War. Sgt Thomas Ackerman was a crew-chief and gunman on this UH-1H. He supplied several photos of the Huey, during its time in Vietnam, to the museum, including the one above. Thomas Ackerman died of Agent Orange related cancer in 2004.
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.
Interior Alaska had a decent cold snap drop in for the Winter Solstice and Christmas holiday. From December 17-28, Fairbanks did not see temperatures climb above zero. By Alaska standards, the period was neither long nor extreme, but we did make some ice, as they say. For comparison sake: The 11 day streak of below zero is tied for 42nd longest in the past 50 years. *
The Koyukuk & Yukon River Valleys saw the largest drops, as Allakaket and Manley Hot Springs fell to -60F and -65F respectively. The Manley temp was the coldest officially recorded in Alaska since Fort Yukon dipped to -66F in 2012.
Fairbanks officially reached -40F for the first time this season on Dec 27. That was the only day it dropped down to -40 at the cabin, as well. We had not seen -40F in Fairbanks since January 12, 2019, which is quite the stretch for us.
On December 28, the Deadhorse airport combined -38F temperatures with a 21 mph breeze, to offer a -73 degree windchill to residents of Prudhoe Bay.
No record lows were set during the 11 day period. The record low statewide for the month of December is -72F, which happened in Chicken, Alaska on New Year’s Eve of 1999.
In spite of the cold snap, there is little doubt that 2019 will be the warmest on record for Alaska. Currently, the temp outside the cabin remains above zero, some birch logs are smoldering in the wood stove, and a window is open, as I type this out, dressed in shorts and a t-shirt.
It isn’t a figment of Alaskans’ imagination: Alaska’s winters are indeed warmer. Winter months (December through February) have seen a substantial rise in average temperatures over the past fifty years. The northern part of the state has seen the largest increase, with a 9.0 to 9.2F degree rise, but the entire state is under a warming trend.
Nome Sea Ice:
Data credit: UAF, ACCAP, NOAA, @AlaskaWx
Sea ice off the coast of Nome, Alaska is nonexistent in December, defying the historical record. Everything but recent history, that is. The drop off the statistical edge that the graph shows is pretty eye-opening.
The Port of Nome was open and operating at the end of November, which is the latest that has happened on record.
Thursday morning was just a tad chilly in Interior Alaska. Fort Yukon dropped to -45F. The record low for the date in Fort Yukon is -68F, so it’s still balmy from that vantage point.
The Fairbanks airport hit -20F at 8am on Thursday. The first time we had officially dropped to -20 for the season. We are 2-1/2 weeks late (November 19) from the average first -20 of the season, but we are still 10 days earlier than in 2018.
The temp at the cabin at 8am was -26F on Thursday.
November was a warm month across the State of Alaska. With the lack of sea ice, Utqiagvik was a staggering 16.1 degrees above normal for the month. By comparison, Fairbanks was a modest 10.6 degrees above normal for November.
Graph credit: ACCAP
Sea ice in the Chukchi Sea was at the lowest level ever recorded for November. In fact, sea ice was at such a low level, that it was below the daily average levels for entire summers prior to 2001.
November highlights: Data credit: NOAA; Graphic credit: @AlaskaWx
Some highlights for the month statewide:
The final week of the month hit the village of Bettles, with a record 3-day snowfall of 28.3″. That same storm also set the 2-day record.
Anchorage, Cold Bay and Kodiak all saw their warmest November on record, while Utqiagvik experienced its second warmest.
On Thanksgiving morning the temperature in Fairbanks was 33F, which is only the seventh time in 116 years that Fairbanks saw above freezing temperatures on that day.
Nome had no snow on the ground during November, yet Chulitna received 78.5″!
Kotzebue continues its streak of above average temperatures for the 27th consecutive month.