Tag Archives: winter

Entering Polar Night

Credit: National Weather Service – Fairbanks

The village of Utqiagvik is the northernmost “city” in the United States. On Wednesday, the sun set at 1:30pm, and it will rise again in the new year on January 23.

In contrast, Fairbanks saw the sun rise at 9:39am on Wednesday, and saw it set at 3:35pm. For a length of day of 5 hrs 55 mins, and 8 hrs 5 mins of visible daylight. Thursday will see 6 mins and 19 secs of less daylight.

Only a month more of losing daylight for Fairbanks, but another 66 days for Utqiagvik to turn that corner.

Fairbanks is 502 miles south of Utqiagvik.


SS Edmund Fitzgerald

The great freighter sank 45 years ago today, taking all 29 crew members to the bottom of Lake Superior with her.

The SS Edmund Fitzgerald

Growing up in Minnesota, and spending a fair amount of time along the shores of Lake Superior, the story of the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald is one that I had heard from early childhood.

Construction on The Fitz started in August of 1957. The Great Lakes Engineering Works was tasked with building a freighter that would come within one foot of the Saint Lawrence Seaway’s maximum length. The customer was the Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The ship was launched in June 1958, bearing the name of the president of Northwestern Mutual Life. The cost for the 729′ long freighter with a 26,000 long ton capacity, was $7 million.

For 17 years, The Fitz hauled iron ore from Duluth and Superior to cities like Detroit and Toledo. It took five days to make the run between Toledo, Ohio and Superior, Wisconsin.

The Fitzgerald set several cargo records during its time on the Great Lakes, often breaking her own previous record. In 1969, the ship hauled 27,402 long tons in a single run.

The Fitz quickly became popular with the public. Captain Peter Pulcer would play music over the ship’s intercom, whenever they went through the St Clair and Detroit Rivers. Near the Soo Locks, Pulcer would often talk to the public over a bullhorn, explaining details of the ship.

The Fitzgerald’s final run

A storm was building over Oklahoma’s panhandle on 9 November 1975. Weather forecasters predicted that it would stay south of Lake Superior. At 2:15pm, on the same day, the Edmund Fitzgerald left the port of Superior, WI.

The storm moved fast, and by 1am on the morning of the 10th, The Fitz was reporting waves at ten feet. By 2am, the National Weather Service had upgraded its warnings from gale to storm.

The SS Arthur M. Anderson, which had been traveling with The Fitz, started to fall behind the faster Fitzgerald at 3am. The Anderson recorded winds of 58mph at 1:50pm. It started to snow heavy at 2:45pm, and the crew of the Anderson lost sight of the Fitzgerald at that time. The Fitz was approximately 16 miles ahead at this point.

At 3:30pm, Captain McSorley of the Fitzgerald, radioed the Anderson that they were taking on water and had lost two vent covers. The United States Coast Guard had closed the Soo Locks, and told ships to seek safe anchorage.

By late afternoon, waves had increased to 25 feet and wind gusts hit 67mph. The Anderson recorded gusts of 86mph and waves of 35 feet. The Edmund Fitzgerald tried to make Whitefish Bay, where the Whitefish Point light was working, but not the radio beacon. By now the Fitzgerald was blind, having lost both its radar.

At 7:10pm, Captain McSorley radioed the Anderson, that they were “holding their own”. The Edmund Fitzgerald sank within minutes of that final message. There was no distress signal.

The Edmund Fitzgerald on the bottom of Lake Superior

The fully loaded Edmund Fitzgerald went down 15 nautical miles from Whitefish Bay. All 29 crew members perished; no bodies were recovered. The Fitz now lies 530 feet below the surface of Lake Superior.

A U.S. Navy Lockheed P-3 Orion, equipped with technology usually associated with finding submarines, found the wreck on 14 November 1975. The ship was in two pieces on the lake floor.

Positioning of the Fitzgerald wreck

Every year on November 10, the Minnesota Historical Society hosts the Edmund Fitzgerald Memorial Beacon Lighting Ceremony at the Split Rock Lighthouse in Two Harbors, MN. This year’s ceremony will be virtual, hosted on the Historical Society’s facebook page. The ceremony starts at 4:30 CST, with the beacon lighting at approximately 7:30pm.

https://www.mnhs.org/event/7795?fbclid=IwAR1uhHGt09pDrvk7IyAuJ7SZ7hsizkzvaye4Rlcr3sRujpi_6A7dBsSP4i0

The Split Rock Lighthouse; Photo credit: Split Rock Lighthouse State Park

Edmund Fitzgerald Photos Credit: Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum

Sources: Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum; Split Rock Lighthouse State Park; Minnesota Historical Society


Courtesy of Alaska’s Department of Health & Human Services

Alaska, which had been doing fairly well in the fight against Covid-19, has been trending in the wrong direction ever since we started to venture back inside. During the summer months, social distancing is kind of a way of life up here. However, I fully expected the cases to rise once the weather cooled and the snow came. Unfortunately, that has proved to be accurate.

On Friday, the State had over 500 new cases, and 1100 more over the weekend. Saturday alone, set a record for number of positive cases with 604. That makes six consecutive weeks where the number of Covid cases have increased. The positivity rate and hospitalizations are also increasing.

There have been over 19,000 confirmed cases in Alaska since the start of the pandemic, with 84 deaths.


Winter Weather Advisory

Our first of the season.

It’s been an odd year, all the way around, but especially with the weather. Fairbanks had a dusting of snow last week, but nothing measurable. Anchorage had measurable snow before we did.

Juneau beat both Fairbanks and Anchorage for the season’s first freeze. Juneau! That’s just not right.

So winter is coming for Fairbanks. Even though 2-3 inches of snow is hardly much to get excited over, at least it’s a start. Denali Park & Black Rapids are at least looking to get a good jump on the season.

I guess I’m ready for snow. Let it fall.

Graphics credit: National Weather Service – Fairbanks


The White Stuff

Eielson Visitor Center; Photo credit: Denali National Park

Denali National Park saw snow on Friday morning. I was just recently out to the Eielson Visitor Center with visiting family members, so the pictures definitely grabbed my attention.

Fairbanks did not see snow, only 6/10 of an inch of rain.

On Saturday morning, Anchorage dropped below 40F for the first time this season. (The season started August 1) It was the first time since 1961 that Anchorage dropped below 40F before Fairbanks did. By Sunday morning, the natural order had returned to normal, when Fairbanks officially dropped to 34F and Anchorage stayed at 40F.

The (Park) road to Eielson; Photo credit: Denali National Park

I have seen snow fall in every month of the year in Alaska. Both July & August snowfalls took place when I was hiking in Denali.

The average date for the first snowfall in Fairbanks is September 30. We have seen snow in late August, and the latest first snowfall is Halloween. The average first snowfall of an inch or more is October 6.

I am not remotely ready for winter, mentally or physically. Alaska remains indifferent to my level of preparation.


Spring has arrived to the Last Frontier

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The melt has started

The temperature on Easter Sunday reached 56F degrees in Fairbanks.  The last time we broke the 50 degree barrier was on September 30.

My daily hikes have been taking place in the morning now.  Partly, because the day is usually wide open for interpretation, but mainly because the snowpack is still firm early in the day.  Breaking trail gets old in a hurry.  The mukluks will be retired any day now for the rubber breakup boots.

Our length of day has surpassed 15 hours.  In fact, length of visible light, has gone over 17 hours.  The northern lights have been out, but they are already faint, unless they put on a show around 2am.  Soon, we will not see them again, until late August.

Rabbits can be seen morning & evening, bounding over the massive piles of snow with ease.  Already, the new brown fur is mixing with the white of winter.  An owl can be heard at night, hooting off in the distance, and I have seen the tracks of lynx, but the wary cat has evaded my camera traps.  Neither the owl nor the lynx seem to have put much of a dent in the rabbit population.  The frisky bunnies seem as numerous, if not more so, than last year.

Plow it, and they will land: 

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Creamer’s Field on Wednesday

At the end of last week, the annual plowing of Creamer’s Field happened.  The old dairy farm is now a migratory waterfowl refuge.  The field is used to tempt waterfowl away from Fairbanks International Airport.  Fairbanks has an annual lottery on when the first Canadian goose lands at Creamer’s.  It’s not as widely bet on as the Nenana Ice Classic, but it may be as closely followed.  Creamer’s saw its first arrival on Sunday the 12th.  However, for only the second time since 1976, it wasn’t a Canadian honker that landed first, but a pair of trumpeter swans.  When I was out there on Wednesday, the swans were off in the distance and ducks were flying in, and landing on the puddles.  The woodchucks are also out and about at the refuge.

This is the first month of April that I have spent in Alaska since 2003!  I always leave around the end of March, if not earlier, to get some traveling in, and head to the Frozen Four Hockey Championship, wherever that may be held.  It’s a bit odd for me to be here to watch the snow melt.

With the above average snowfall this past season, and the quick upturn in temperature, we are in for a very messy breakup with winter.


Newtok School

Film Friday:

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After the blizzard

Camera: Widelux VI; Film: Kodak 35mm, Tri-X400 

 

 

 


Naknek, Alaska

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Looking out over Naknek from the Tribal Hall

Naknek sits along the shore of the Naknek River, where the river flows into Kvichak Arm of Bristol Bay.

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Bristol Bay is Alaska’s famed salmon waters.  It is the world’s most productive salmon fishery.  Naknek is home to both Trident and Peter Pan Seafoods, among many others.

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Hiking along the shore of the Naknek River

Naknek lies less than 20 road miles from King Salmon, which is also on the Naknek River.  It’s definitely fishing country, with over 75% of the jobs in fisheries.

When we visited, the town had only begun to get ready for the fishing season.  Many were worried about what the Corvid-19 virus was going to do to the industry.  At the time, Alaska had no known cases of the virus, but Washington State was already a hotbed.  Many summer workers come up from Washington every year.  Concerns were rampant, and not unexpected.

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The nightlife hotspot of Naknek

The community was welcoming and open about their unique lifestyle on Bristol Bay.  Naknek has a population of less than 600 in the winter months, but explodes to around 15,000 during the summer.  I have always wanted to visit the area in the summer, it must be absolutely beautiful.  The sockeye runs are a major temptation, but I simply could not imagine so many people in such a confined space as Naknek.  There is a nearby alternative, but more on that in a future post.

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Naknek, circa 1946; Naknek Native Tribal Council

 

 


Vernal Equinox

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A young moose blocks my way to the job site on Wednesday; its twin was eating willows in the slough to the right.

Winter 2019-2020 seems to have dragged on forever.  We are finally turning the much anticipated corner into spring.  I understand, for some of you, briar & tick season leaves you feeling itchy over the upcoming season, but up here in the Far North, I’m more than ready for spring.  Without any hockey, we might as well melt the ice.

Spring officially arrives early this year.  We have not seen a spring this early on the calendar for 124 years. Looking at the snow still on the ground here in Fairbanks, only the warmer temps signal any sign of spring.

Here in Fairbanks, we have finally pushed over the 12 hour mark for daylight.  We gained 6 minutes, 44 seconds from yesterday.  That makes both the moose and I happy.


Kuskokwim Highway

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Breaking trail on the Kuskokwim River; Photo credit: KTOO

The ice road on the Kuskokwim River in southwestern Alaska has reached a record length this year: 355 miles.

The ice road generally starts to take shape, weather permitting, in January.  This year, for the first time, the village of Sleetmute is on the river ice-highway system.

On average, the ice road runs 200 miles long, or so.  With unpredictable air transportation, the ice road can be a boon for residents trying to reach medical care, or to just buy supplies mid-winter.

Ice thickness near Bethel was at 3-4 feet, but it dropped to approximately 2 feet thick near Sleetmute.  One 14 mile section was so rough that it had to be bulldozed prior to plowing.

Thanks to KTOO, Johnny Cash, Rebecca Wilmarth and Corey Nicholai for the video.