Do all adventurers love maps? This blog post is an experiment in focusing on the map itself (rather than the perhaps-overly-long writing I usually do). The anecdote is set at the location marked by the star on the map. Other points contain our photos or info about the area. Click around! Have fun!
It rained all night, or at least all the night that I was listening. For the last two days we’d been circling around a low mountain of shattered grey rock, our hopes perking up with each lull in the pattering, looking for enough of a break in the weather to climb for a view. I wasn’t very hopeful anymore. But when we finally dragged ourselves outside of the tent, the sky looked high, dry, and grey.
Our grey and yellow tent nearly disappeared below us, blending into the fall-colored willow bushes and slopes of rock below. I imagined camoflauged soldiers, dressed in pink and yellow in this gaudy world. As we climbed, the Noatak River appeared as a shining distant stripe. From the top, we could see what we’d been looking for: Red Dog Mine.
Your browser does not support iframes.
The mine pit itself was hidden behind a piece of the ridge, but through the shifting grey base of the cloud we sat in, we could see the brightly-painted tailings buildings and the long stripe of the airport.
I pointed it out to Katmai who was watching from over my shoulder. “Look. There’s Red Dog Mine again.”
“Red Dog Mine nice?” he piped back at me.
“I don’t know,” I told him. “That’s not an easy question.”
“Whatever you do, don’t put wood ash on the garden. Then it’ll definitely snow.”
I should have listened to my friend’s warning. On the morning of April 6, a light dusting of snowflakes drifted down to the ground, landing on top of the 56.5 inches of snow already sitting on the ground, and covering the wood ash I had put on top of the garden the day before in the hopes it would melt faster.
A few days later, Anchorage busted its all time snowfall record with 134.5 inches for the winter.
The news from the lower 48 this winter was all about the lack of winter. Friends in Minnesota saw summer in March. The entire eastern half of the U.S. pretty much skipped winter altogether. This winter was the 4th warmest on record in the U.S. (excluding Alaska and Hawaii), and the warmest March ever recorded.
Here in Seldovia, people chuckled at that news, while walking up to the top of their roofs, snow shovels in hand. Or cursed the news while running their plow trucks in a losing battle against drifted-in parking lots. Or they didn’t hear the news at all, busy skiing through an endless supply of powder up in the mountains, or zooming their snowmachines along the trail through our yard.
Seldovia doesn’t keep snowfall records. But we’ve been recording snow depth through the winter on a measuring pole in our yard, which usually shows numbers around twice the depth in Anchorage. And we’re nowhere near the snowiest. Other places in the state, such as Valdez, Cordova, Yakutat, and Haines, always have snowfall stats that make Seldovia and Anchorage seem positively desert-like by comparison.
Graph of snow depth in our yard. Click for details.
With snow, it seems that every winter is an entirely different beast. In my childhood in Seattle, I don’t remember that being true. All winters were grey, rainy, and if we were lucky, had maybe one or two small snowstorms that might cancel a day of school.
I’ve only been in Seldovia for 4 winters. There was the winter of the eruption – where the little snow that fell was covered by an ash fall in April, and melted away seemingly instantly. There was so little snow that the berry bushes froze, and took several years to recover the blueberry harvest. Then there was the winter of the March blizzards, burying my mother-in-law’s van to the roof where it sat at the bottom of the driveway. Twice. Then there was the winter of the broken trees, where an enormous November dump of wet snow weighted down the tree tops so much that dozens snapped in half, and the alders were bent down so far that some of them hadn’t popped up fully the next June.
2011-2012 was the winter of the infinite and endless snow. Cold, and relentless, with fluffy snowfall after fluffy snowfall, piling on top of eachother with not much of a melt in between. This year had the coldest January ever recorded in Alaska, with temperatures here hovering in the single digits for pretty much the entire month. No one’s firewood lasted the season. The alders never laid down, and were simply buried standing up.
The lower 48 was warm mostly because the jet stream was farther north than usual this year, leaving much of the country in the warmer air south of the jet stream (particularly the eastern half of the country). Apparently, much of the blame lies with a pair of weather phenomena known as the Arctic Oscillation and the North Atlantic Oscillation. The Arctic Oscillation spent most of the winter in the “positive” phase, which drives winter storms to the north. The North Atlantic Oscillation does a similar thing, and was positive throughout the winter.
So we got everyone’s snow this year, as well as an unusually cold midwinter (particularly in January). Supposedly spring here will be cool and dry. I’m hoping they’re wrong (at least on the cool part), since I would like to see the garden before July. Given how ridiculously off some of the winter predictions were, I’m not too worried.
Weather is complicated. Next year, the pattern may switch entirely, and bury the lower 48 in all of Alaska’s snow. But climate trends are clear. Increasing global temperatures increases the chances of extreme events in any location, particularly on the warm end of the scale. Looking beyond regional weather patterns, February 2012 (the latest month with available data), was the 324th consecutive month where global temperatures beat the 20th century average. That means there hasn’t been a colder-than-average month on a worldwide scale since I was 5 years old (February 1985).
For now, anyone with a shovel is more than welcome to all the snow in my yard. Over 4 feet still available!