As I noted at this time last winter (Sunshine...1/1/14), the winter solstice in Alaska is not just a time of short days and cold weather. The low angle of sun (it rises just over 2° above the horizon) makes for fantastic sun rises and sunsets. Since the day length changes only a few seconds per day during mid December, these short day sunsets occur for several weeks. As noted here:
"December may be marked by Christmas, but for pagans it’s the time to celebrate Yule holiday. This ancient event marks the winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere (Sunday, Dec. 21, this year) and celebrates the rebirth of the sun and beginning of winter. It is one of the oldest winter celebrations known.
The winter solstice is the longest night and shortest day of the year. The Earth’s axis tilts the furthest away from the sun at 23-and-a-half degrees, giving all locations north of the equator less than 12 hours of daylight. This moment has been marked by mankind for centuries. Celebrating the rebirth of the sun can be seen in other cultures throughout history. While these typically took place during the coldest, darkest days of the year, winter solstice traditions were celebrations that gave people hope sunny days lay ahead.
In ancient Rome, the weeklong feast of Saturnalia honored the sun god Saturn. Celts believed the sun stood still for 12 days, making it necessary to light a log fire to conquer the darkness. During the Iron Age, the Celts and other ancient Europeans welcomed the winter solstice by feasting, merrymaking and sacrificing animals." (http://www.ibtimes.com/winter-solstice-2014-3-things-know-about-pagan-yule-celebrations-1763756). Now a days, people still celebrate the Christmas holiday by decorating trees, hanging wreaths, and burning yule logs, not realizing they're carry-overs from these ancient pagan rites.
Here's some photos taken during solstice week:
Like October, December started with a snowstorm. This time we got almost 8 inches of snow over two days. It was a good excuse to finally get outside and push some snow around with the tractor. And now we can quit worrying about the septic freezing up like it did 2 years ago when we didn't get much snow until new years. As for November, here's the NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE's monthly summary:
"November 2014 was warm and dry overall with no significant cold
snaps or large storms for the Fairbanks area.
The average high temperature was 19.0 degrees which was 8.1
degrees above the normal high and
ranked as the 20th warmest of 110 years of record. The average low
temperature was 2.5 degrees above the
average low temperature and ranked as the 20th warmest. The average temperature for the month was 10.8 degrees which was 8.2 degrees above average and ranked as
the 19th warmest on record .
November was very dry with the first measurable snow not
occurring until the 25th when 2.6 inches of snow fell at the
airport. For the month, only 3.8 inches of snow fell which was 9.4 inches below
the normal snow fall of 13.2 inches. This ranks as the 85th snowiest
November of 99 years of record. Only 0.18 inches of water equivalent
fell which was 0.49 inches below the normal of 0.67 inches. This ranks as the 15th driest of 100 years of record.
Looking forward to December, the average high temperature drops
from 7 above on the 1st to 2 above on the 31st. the average low
drops from 11 below on the 1st to 16 below on the 31st. In the
last 109 years temperatures have varied by 120 degrees, from a high of 58 above in 1934 to a low of 62 below in 1961. Average snowfall is 12 inches but has been as much as 50.7 inches in 1984 to as little as a trace in 1969. The long term outlook for Fairbanks for December calls for increased chances for above normal temperatures
and equal chances for above or below normal precipitation.
December is the darkest month of the year with possible sunshine
decreasing from 4 hours and 41 minutes on the 1st to the annual
minimum of 3 hours and 42 minutes on the winter solstice. By the
31st possible sunshine increases to 3 hours and 58 minutes gaining
16 minutes along the long climb back to the
summer solstice in June."
After an early October snowstorm dumped nearly half a foot of heavy wet snow (Winter's a comin'...10/1/14), we went over a month with virtually none. And then after the local news-minus (newsminer.com) predicted a snowless Nov, it looked pretty bleak for outdoor activities. But then the light snow forecast for Mon turned into a dump of 3-4 inches and winter's looking pretty good again.
Won't be running dogs anytime soon though, since we just got back from Seattle where I had the other hip redone (Summer vacation? 6/30/14). Still gimping around on crutches, but hopefully will be back to it in a month or so.
Some photos after the latest snow:
My neighbor stopped by the other day while I was splitting wood. As he walked over he looked at all the wood piles and asked why I was still splitting wood when I had so much stacked already. Well I just rambled on for a bit about how it's good exercise and besides, you never know how much you'll need. So we went inside and the conversation moved on. But later on I got to thinking, when is it wood enough?
When Andy and I both were working, we burned a lot less wood cause we were both gone all day. Now that I'm home a lot more, I keep the fire going most of the day, especially during the cold part of winter (Nov. to Mar.). So we probably burn half again more wood than we used to. Since it's not exactly stacked into cord wood units, it's hard to say how much we burn, but I used to figure we used around 3-4 cords and now it's probably closer to 6. Also, I like to let the wood dry for 2 summers after it's stacked, so you need more wood when you're splitting for winter after next. So I guess the answer is, it's like money in the bank, you never really have wood enough.
While not as warm as September (Climate change? 10/18/14), October averaged slightly above normal for the month. According to the weather service:
"The average temperature was 25.2 degrees which was 1.0 degrees above the normal. The average maximum temperature at the Fairbanks airport was 31.5
degrees which was 0.4 degrees below the normal maximum temperature. This ranked as the 40th coldest of 110 years of record. The average minimum temperature was 18.9 degrees which was
2.4 degrees above the normal minimum temperature. This ranked as the 51st warmest of 110 years of record."
So while the max temps were below normal, the mins were well above. This is the same pattern noted for the Pacific northwest (cliffmass.blogspot.com) and was largely attributed by him to the PDO (Pacific Decadal Oscillation) rather than any influence from global warming. I found this kind of an odd conclusion, so googled it up. Found this comment on the PDO and global climate change:
Is Pacific Decadal Oscillation the Smoking Gun?
"The blogosphere is abuzz with the news that the Pacific Decadal Oscillation is reverting to a cool phase. Hot on the heels of this bombshell, a new climate model predicts a cooling North Atlantic Ocean will slow down global warming. This has led to speculation that man-made global warming is no match for natural cycles or even that Pacific Decadal Oscillation is responsible for most of the climate change over the past century including the warming since the mid-70's. The PDO is a climate phenomena found primarily in the North Pacific (as opposed to El Niño which affects mostly the tropical Pacific). It has two phases that it typically alternates between; usually staying in one phase for a significant period of time (as little as 10 and as much as 40 years). The phases of the PDO have been called warm phases (positive values) or cool phases (negative values). While we talk about a 20 to 30 year period, it is not very clear cut at all. In fact, an analysis of the frequency of the events does not produce much in the way of a firm period. While PDO does have some degree of correlation with short term variations in global temperature, the striking feature is the contrast in trends between PDO and global temperature. Obviously the PDO as an oscillation between positive and negative values shows no long term trend. In contrast, global temperature displays a long term warming trend. When the PDO last switched to a cool phase, global temperatures were about 0.4C cooler than currently. The long term warming trend indicates the total energy in the Earth's climate system is increasing. This is due to an energy imbalance - more energy is coming in than is going out. Various factors affect the Earth's energy balance.
The total energy imbalance is expressed as net forcing, the sum of all the various forcings (eg - solar, aerosols, greenhouse gases, etc). When all forcings are included, net forcing shows good correlation with global temperatures. There is no single smoking gun. As our climate continues to absorb more energy than it emits, we can expect the long term warming trend to continue with short term fluctuations." http://www.skepticalscience.com/Is-Pacific-Decadal-Oscillation-the-Smoking-Gun.html.
So there you go, another opinion. Who's right? We'll probably know in a few more years, since the PDO is expected to enter a negative (cooler) phase. If global temperatures continue to rise, well, that's all folks.
As I mentioned earlier (Winters a' comin' 10/1/14), the first snows of the year always seem to confuse and disappoint the cats. While they somewhat tolerate the colder weather, they don't like the snow and unhappily spend increasing amounts of time indoors. Now it would appear there's another reason for their misery:
Seasonal Affective Disorder in Cats.
"Cats, perhaps more so than people, are sensitive to changes in light. Less light in the winter may cause a decrease in natural brain chemicals, like serotonin, that increase mood. One of the most notable symptoms of seasonal affective disorder is wanting to sleep all the time. Cats may overeat during the winter months. This can lead to unhealthy weight gain, so may need encouragement to get off the couch and be active." (http://www.ehow.com/about_5369713_seasonal-affective-disorder-cats.html).
While they certainly overeat in the winter, they do pretty good job of it year round. Ruty's idea of exercise is to go from the couch to his food bowl, then to the litter box, and finally back to the couch. Repeat as needed. But they have adapted to the cold quite well, sharing the old couch dowstairs next to the monitor heater.
Although Ruty often prefers lounging in front of the woodstove when there's a good hot fire going.
Shortly after the last post (Winter's a' comin'10/1/14), the climate summary for Alaska came out. Not surprisingly, the average temperatures for September, like August, were well above normal statewide (http://climate.gi.alaska.edu/node/710).
What was surprising was an article that came out a little later:
September Was Warmest on Record, NASA Data Show. "Like August before it, September 2014 was the warmest September on record, according to newly updated NASA data. The warm month makes it even more likely that 2014 will become the warmest year on record. Ocean temperatures have played a large role in 2014’s warmth, including the warmer-than-normal sea surface temperatures in the tropical Pacific Ocean that have accompanied an emerging El Niño, Kevin Trenberth, a climatologist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research, told Climate Central in an email. The ocean is where some 90 percent of the excess heat trapped by greenhouse gases is stored." (http://www.climatecentral.org/news/september-2014-warmest-on-record-18172).
Proof of global warming?
Hold on. Here's another view:
Why is the Northwest U.S. warming? Natural variations or mankind's greenhouse gases? "Originally there was a lot of talk (last spring) of the potential for a Super El Nino, with some of the global warming "advocate" sites talking about its effects on the global temperature record. El Ninos (ENSO) are associated with warmer than normal water in the tropical Pacific and that such anomalies can influence Northwest weather (less storms, warmer, less snow).
However, the sea surface temperatures in the critical central Pacific is only modestly warmer than normal and the atmospheric circulation has not reacted in a way to reinforce the warming and push us towards a moderate or stronger El Nino. So we should not expect much more than a marginal El Nino during the upcoming fall and early winter months. And amplitude matters. Weak El Ninos have lesser impacts. The correlation of our weather with El Nino is not perfect to start with. And for weak El Nino years the relationship weakens further. But for weak El Nino years, the precipitation patterns are all over the place.
The latest NWS Climate Forecast System forecasts for December-January-February is for warmer than average over much of the U.S. But there is another type of natural variability that has a huge impact on the weather/climate of the Pacific basin. The Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) has a period of around 50 years, oscillating between warm and cold cycles. It was in a cool cycle between roughly 1950 and 1977, then a warm cycle until around 2005, and more recently looks to be in a cooler cycle.
If you compare the variations of the PDO with the Northwest temperatures, it is very obvious that the variations of NW temps seems to closely follow the PDO changes, suggesting our temperatures are highly controlled by this mode of natural variability.
Thus, when some local scientists say that the temperature changes experienced here in the Northwest are mainly due to greenhouse gas emissions they are certainly incorrect. We live in an area where the greenhouse gas signal is small and where natural variability (as forced by the PDO and ENSO) are quite large (and there are other modes of natural variability)." (http://cliffmass.blogspot.com/).
So who's right? Perhaps a better indicator of climate change are systems that respond to longer term cycles, like ice caps and glaciers. Two articles that point towards longer climate change are:
Strong Temperature Increase and Shrinking Sea Ice in Arctic Alaska, which discusses recent temperature rises and loss of sea ice cover in the Arctic ocean (http://climate.gi.alaska.edu).
Are glaciers growing or retreating? "Globally, glaciers are losing ice at an extensive rate. There are still situations in which glaciers gain or lose ice more than typical for one region or another but the long term trends are all the same, and about 90% of glaciers are shrinking worldwide." (http://www.skepticalscience.com/himalayan-glaciers-growing.htm).
So what's the answer? No matter how much data will point to a particular outcome, some skeptics will confound the issues by only picking individual anomalies or by ignoring long term trends. These diversions do not address the most important question: what is the real state of global climate change? Politicians are the worst, often choosing a position solely to gain support from their base. And in election years, the climate change clown show will only escalate.
It never ceases to amaze me how fast it changes from summer to winter up here. Blink twice and you miss fall. After a pleasantly warm September, October starts with snow on the ground. Here's the weather services September summary (www.arh.noaa.gov):
"September 2014 started off wet and cool for the first week and
then transitioned to warm and dry conditions for the second and
third weeks. The last week of the month turned cool with rain and
The average high temperature at the Fairbanks airport was 57.2
degrees which was 2.6 degrees above the normal high temperature of
54.4 degrees. The average low temperature was 35.5 degrees which
was 0.4 degrees above the normal low temperature of 35.1 degrees.
The average temperature for September 2014 was 46.4 degrees which
was 1.5 degrees above the normal average temperature for September
of 44.9 degrees. the average temperature for September 2014 ranked
as the 35th warmest of 109 years of record.
The warmest temperature recorded at the Fairbanks airport in
September 2014 was 76 degrees on the 14th of September. not only
was this a daily record high temperature but there has only been
one other day in the climate record in Fairbanks that the
temperature has been warmer than 76 degrees on a date later than
the 14th of September. In 1995 the temperature reached 78 degrees
on the 21st during a record breaking Chinook event.
The coldest temperature recorded at the Fairbanks airport in
September 2014 was 24 degrees which occurred on the 28th. The
first snow of the season fell on the 23rd which is a couple days
later than the average first snow fall in Fairbanks.
2.89 inches of precip fell during the month of September and was
1.79 inches above the normal precip of 1.10 inches. September was
the 4th consecutive month with above normal precipitation and
ranked as the 4th wettest September of 101 years of record.
1.43 inches of rain fell on the 1st which was a new daily rain
fall record for that day. 0.3 inches of snow fell at the airport
during the month of September which was 1.5 inches below the
normal snowfall of 1.8 inches. This ranks as the 37th snowiest of
101 years of record."
Probably more weather information than you need, so here's some pictures of the latest snowfall.
While the dogs appear to love the snow, the cat's are kind of confused. Every morning they sit at the back door waiting to be let out, but when you open the door, they just stare at the snow and look at you like "where'd that come from?" Then go back inside. Pretty funny.
When I was getting discharged from the hospital in Seattle (Summer vacation? 6/30/14), they found an irregular pulse, so did some tests and figured out it was AFib (atrial fibrillation). They thought it was a temporary reaction to the anesthesia and would go away, but it didn't. After seeing a cardiologist in Fairbanks, he recommended ablation therapy, where they normalize (tune up) the heart to eliminate the irregular nerve impulses that cause AFib. Since it wasn't available here, we had to go to Anchorage, where they did the procedure this past week. Apparently, it was successful. We won't know for a while yet, since it occasionally returns, but for now I got my rhythm back.
More on AFib at: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/atrial-fibrillation/multimedia/img-20096441
(You'll have to copy and paste into your browser.)
The past two weeks have been near perfect weather. Sunny for the most part and 60-70° F; quite a contrast to the cool, rainy summer (The end of Thermidor 7/31/14). Between the hip problems (Summer vacation 6/30/14) and the rain, I'd hardly ridden the bikes since last year. It didn't seem worth the trouble, given that it literally was a major pain in the butt when I tried to ride the bike in May. But with this recent warm spell. I figured I'd better get to it or miss a whole season of riding. Each time I went out, it felt better, until it seemed like there'd never been a problem. The rides were comparatively short, maybe twenty miles or so, but the colors were near perfect (Leaves a' turnin' 9/15/14). I finally remembered to take the camera when I went down to the Chena River.
The colors were past their prime by then, but you get a great panorama of
the valley and hills north of town as you ride across the flats. But now it's cooled off, the leaves are down, and the rains have returned. Looks like this could have been the last ride of the year.
The fall colors were out this past weekend as the temperatures rose to record levels, thanks to a strong low in the gulf creating Chinook winds. The color change this year is a sharp contrast to last fall when the leaves didn't change until early Oct (Autumn leaves... 10/5/13). What was especially noticeable this year was the early arrival of brown to some of the hillsides. This was likely due to an infestation of moth larvae on the birch trees.
According to the local news-minus (newsminer.com): "There has been an outbreak in Fairbanks of the amber-marked birch leaf miner (Profenusa thomsoni), an insect that came to North America in the early 1900s and arrived in Fairbanks by about 2002. Leaf miners overwinter in the ground as pupae and emerge as adults in the spring. The adults lay eggs at the tips of young birch leaves. The eggs hatch into larvae (small caterpillars) that eat the insides of the leaves, leaving yellow areas scattered with worm nuggets. After a few weeks, the larvae fall to the ground and pupate. The leaves that were mined then turn brown."
Their source: http://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/r10/forestgrasslandhealth/?cid=fsbdev2_038906
What's interesting is that in the past few years, the aspen trees had suffered from a similar infestation and turned a pale shade of yellow well before the birch. This year the aspen apparently were unaffected and exhibited the more vibrant colors.
After several year's hiatus, went back out to Nome Creek to drive the dozer (Dozin' off again 8/9/10). Rather than dealing with the existing tailing piles, this was an area where contractors had removed tailings for road reconstruction. In doing so, they had excavated below the water level of the creek, so that whenever it flooded, the creek would flow into the area and erode new channels. The problem was how to consolidate all the flow into a single channel without sufficient material to build up the new stream banks. As usual, you have to make a mess to fix a mess. Excavated a new channel and some ponds to create material for the stream banks and then spent a lot of time landscaping the area to make the new banks and floodplain. But in the end, the creek was back into a single channel, hopefully for a good while...or at least until the next big flood.
Looking downstream at the eroded channel:
When I started the garage addition (In Addition, 9/18/13), I didn't really have any plans, just scribbled some numbers on the back of an envelope to estimate the lumber. As for the floor, I figured on leaving it gravel. Well that left a lot to be desired, so decided to put in a real floor. My neighbor Butch mentioned how he had laid all weather plywood on top of gravel in his rental garage, so that seemed like a way to go.
First had to dig out some of the gravel to lay out the floor joists:
Then backfilled and compacted gravel to the top of the joists:
Finally laid out the plywood and screwed 'em down for life:
I'd always thought that the names of the calendar months were kind of odd since they had so little to do with the seasons. So the other day I read that July was called Thermidor in the old French revolutionary calendar. I figured that unlike the metric system, the French actually had a good idea for once. While their calendar never caught on, the name, which means heat in Greek, is a great name for July, since on the average, it's the hottest month of the year in interior Alaska.
Except this year, not so much. Unlike last summer when we set the record for the most days above 80°F, this summer has been cool and rainy. We set a record for the most rain in June and July, so far, is second on on the list. So now it's the end of a very unThermidor-like July and we're hoping for a warm, dry August.
The commercial airwaves, TV and radio, have been bombarded for the last year or so with ads paid for by the oil companies to vote no on ballot proposition 1. This is the citizen initiative to to repeal the latest revision of the oil tax law, known as SB 21. While I'm no expert on taxes, or anything else for that matter, my impression of how this law was passed was the all too usual legislative procedure. A bunch of lobbyist's, in this case for the oil companies, descend on Juneau and spend as much money as possible trying to influence the vote.
It's interesting to note that the bill only passed by a single vote in the state senate and that two senators who worked for the oil companies were allowed to vote for it. And our fine governor, a former lobbyist for the oil companies himself, was quick to sign it into law. It's kind of ironic that the tax law that SB 21 replaces, termed ACES, was championed by our former half term governor who hailed it as a major improvement in Alaska tax policy. Perhaps if she'd stayed governor for more than two years, this whole tax fiasco could've been avoided. Despite my inherent dislike for anything associated with Palin, it's unlikely I'll vote no on 1. More information from Alaska Dispatch at:
Took a trip down to Seattle for the past couple of weeks. Stayed in fine hotel suite:
With a grand view of the waterfront and stadiums. In fact, one highlight of the trip was watching the fireworks at Safeco field.
Of course heading out for the day was sometimes a challenge:
Summer vacation? Not so much. Last fall I found out I had "moderate to severe arthritis" in both hips. The right one was quite bothersome by the end of the winter. Surprisingly so, since I'd thought running dogs, cutting firewood, and driving the old Ski Doo would improve things.
After some research, I decided on hip resurfacing rather than a complete replacement. It's slightly less invasive, so the recovery times expected to be a lot shorter. Since it's not done in Fairbanks, we had to got outside for the procedure. Andy filled in as the ever faithful nurse and now we're back in Fairbanks again, looking forward to a fine summer. More info on hip resurfacing at: http://www.surfacehippy.info
Last year at this time, I was still hauling in wood (Haulin' in wood, 5/1/13). Now the snow is mostly gone and we're getting ready for summer:
A year ago, things were a little different:
While the depth of the snow pack and the temperatures were pretty much the same these last two winters, the warming that started in mid April this year was markedly different from last year's. Now the snow is almost gone and the forecast is looking like the warming trend from the last decade is back again.
Every spring my friend Bill and I try to find a new place to visit, but that didn't happen this year. After a day trip into the Chena River Rec. Area earlier this winter, we wound up going back to a cabin there for an over night trip.
We had heard some horror stories about how bad the overflow ice was on the trail in previous years, but there wasn't so much this time. Dogs ran great and we made it in and out without any problems. I only dumped the sled once on a particularly elusive curve.
All things considered, it was a pretty good trip to end the season on.
Unless you remember that rock band from the early '70’s whose lead singer, Jim Peterik, came from my hometown, most would think of the Ides of March from Shakespeare's play Julius Caesar, set during the Roman new year’s celebration (Ides of March, 3/16/13). In Alaska, the Ides come during the best part of winter, when the sun is high enough to warm things up, but not so warm as to ruin the snow pack for outdoor activities.
What makes this photo of the dogs the other day a little unusual, is it was snowing. March actually has the lowest precipitation of any month up here, so it’s rare to get much snowfall. It was snowing lightly when I took the photo, but really started coming down on the way back. The tracks coming out of the dog yard were pretty much covered when we returned. Great weather so far this March, it almost doesn’t get any better than this. Party on.
Years ago when there were half a dozen dog teams training in the valley behind our place, there wasn't a day gone by that I didn't pass another team out there. Now there's only one other musher who runs his dogs regularly and I seldom see him, since we apparently run on different schedules. So you can imagine my surprise when I ran into four teams and a snow machine yesterday after not seeing anyone out there all winter.
Had a tangle with the first team, so had a brief conversation with the musher. Sounds like teams from the Two Rivers area have discovered the trails in this valley. That's alright I guess, but it'd sure be nice if they helped out on trail maintenance once in a while. The dogs made clean passes on the other three teams and the ski doo, so maybe the younger dogs have finally learned how to pass. While it's nice to meet new people, it's a lot nicer when the dogs don't get tangled up, they just trot on by.
Had visitors yesterday morning. Dogs were barking, but couldn't see anything until I looked out the kitchen window and saw this moose walking down the path from the back door to the driveway. So got the camera out and took some photos of the moose in the driveway.
Assumed it was the cow and that the calf was still behind the house. So opened the back door to look out and there, not 20 ft. away from me, was this huge cow moose. The calf was the one in the driveway. Don't know who was more surprised, but fortunately she bolted away from the house and ran behind the wood piles. After reuniting with her calf, they both slowly wandered off. Later on I heard the dogs barking again and figured the moose came back, or likely had never really left. So got some photos of the cow this time.
After a while, I got tired of listening to the dogs bark at them, so finally got the moose heading up the driveway by yelling and acting like the boogey man. Just a little excitement to start the day.
Ground Hog Day's come and gone, and like last year (Global Warming...2/3/13), the hoary marmot's not saying much. But at least the weather's cooled off enough now to run dogs after the second warm, rainy spell this winter. So here's a few photos of todays dog run:
Heading out on the trail across the valley.
Taking a break on the way back home.
Here's a plot of the temperatures so far this winter. There's several -40 cold spells, which are typical, but also a couple of of +40 spells when it rained. Go figure, you'd almost think there was some kind of climate change going on.
Been trying to get out and go for walks every day, since I can't do much else for exercise until the flipper gets better. While there's only about four hours of sunlight most days in December, the brief time when the sun is at it's apogee, about three degrees above the horizon, can make for some interesting photos. So here's some shots of the high noon sun in Fairbanks...