Winter in Alaska

26 January 2014     3.00  PM    36 F      Cloudy

Cold and covered snow. That’s usually what most people say when asked what Alaska is like in the winter. And generally, that would be a fairly reasonable assumption or guess. However, if that is your guess too, then I’m afraid that one  would be failing to take into account the infamous “Pineapple Express” and it’s traditional visit to Alaska at some point in January.

A weather pattern seems to settle over large parts of the State, which sucks in warm, wet air carried along by the temperate winds from Hawaii, bringing the average temperature far above it’s winter normal. The effect seems to have been magnified for us here in Alaska and the Yukon this year, because of the Polar Vortex that has been making it’s presence felt so dramatically in the Lower 48. Every day we seem to be getting news reports of regions in unexpected places recording temperatures lower than we are experiencing. 37 F in Fort Myers, Florida was colder than the 39 F we saw in Anchorage.

As you have come to expect, it is now time for my moaning and groaning about how dreadful it is, how this isn’t why we moved here, and what an impact it’s having on our training and the dogs.  Consider yourself moaned at !

That pile of snow should be on our roof, not concealing the body of an unfortunate delivery driver
That pile of snow should be on our roof, not concealing the body of an unfortunate delivery driver – if only he hadn’t slipped and drowned in that pool of icy water.
One large section of snow is hanging on, waiting for a passing stranger to sneeze at the wrong moment.  Mild temperature, as evinced by the open back door.
One large section of snow is hanging on, waiting for a passerby to sneeze at the wrong moment. Mild temperature, as evinced by the open back door and the collection of idle snow shovels.

We have had quite a pleasant winter so far, good snow fall, and the trails have all been good shape, thanks in great part to the many volunteers that devote their time and efforts to groom, build snow bridges and carry out trail maintenance. Of course, the warm wet weather has been playing havoc with that. The snow that fell in the early winter came mostly in large, concentrated dumps. It was very pretty and encased the landscape and trees in a delightful white blanket. Enter some warmth and wetness, that lovely fluffy snow absorbs a lot of the moisture and becomes increasingly heavy. Where it lies on nice solid stuff, like the ground, all is well. That’s not so true when things like trees and powerlines are involved. Large areas of the Matanuska Valley have been suffering from prolonged power cuts due to the sheer weight of ice and snow bringing down the power cables by themselves or by colluding with the trees.  The trees have gone from being vertical – as trees should be – to either bending over until they lean on something that will support them or just giving up completely and breaking. I should hasten to add this is not true of every tree in Alaska – it only seemed to be true of every tree that neighboured a winter trail. My Facebook feed was full of photographs of mushers wielding axes, bow saws and dull butter knives while their teams waited patiently for the trail to be reopened.

Health & Safety man has heart attack.  Chainsaw, check, safety chaps, check.  carrying running chainsaw above your head, check.
Health & Safety man has heart attack. Chainsaw, check, safety chaps, check. Carrying running chainsaw above your head, check.

Recently, someone bribed a group of us with the promise of cookies if we went out and smashed through some of the snowdrifts and opened up a couple of the well used connector trails. The snow drifts were fun and I only rolled the machine once – and it wasn’t even a proper roll, my passenger barely screamed.  However, the trail opening was a different story. We split into two groups and agreed to attack the problem from either end, meeting on Tank Trail when we were done. 4 hours later, our other group phoned to say they were finished, (literally and physically) and where were we ?  Good question.  We were somewhere on Sweet Cream, having run 2 chainsaws dry of fuel and were now reduced to trying to hack our way through the gazillions of fallen trees blocking the trail with an old bowsaw that had seen better days, a hatchet, a small folding saw and a pair of branch loppers. Add in the fact that it was getting dark (of course none of us had thought we’d be out there long enough to need to bring a headlamp), we were hungry  (cookies long since run out) and thirsty (only one of us had brought anything to drink……… smug, me……..  surely not), we were alternatively hot and sweaty, then cold and wet, we were tired and most remarkably of all, we were still having a good time.  Mushers are strange people.

Just as a footnote,  yesterday the high temperature of the day here was 37 F.  On that day last year, we saw a temperature of -36 F.  Somewhere in between those two extremes would be lovely.

 

 

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