Category Archives: weather

View from the West — Against the wind

Photos courtesy of Clark Fair. Yvonne Leutwyler faces a headwind while hiking near Dillingham.

Photos courtesy of Clark Fair. Yvonne Leutwyler faces a headwind while hiking near Dillingham.

By Clark Fair, for the Redoubt Reporter

Although I was practically forced to take sides back when rival cities Soldotna (my hometown) and Kenai were arguing over the location of the hospital, the college, the Borough Building and a number of other services, organizations and institutions, that fact fails to explain my climate-related favoritism — in other words, why I prefer Soldotna’s weather to Kenai’s.

The answer to that, my friend, is blowing in the wind.

I appreciate a nice breeze when I’m baked by the sun, upwind of an investigating bear or under attack from ferocious insects. Wind in general, however, rarely receives a “LIKE” from me in the Facebook of life. Too often it transforms my comfort into discomfort. It scrapes a knife’s keen edge over the skin of a pleasant day.

Kenai perches upon the Cook Inlet coastline and is regularly visited — some would say, “buffeted” — by winds of varying intensities. Soldotna, on the other hand, lies inland a few miles and is protected from the gusty brunt of most of those gales.

When I was a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion in the 1980s, I often was too lazy to pack a brown bag and therefore used my lunch break to stroll from the Clarion office to various eateries around Kenai. On a warm summer walk to Little Ski-Mo’s, the breeze I encountered might almost have been pleasant, but in winter the dreaded wind chill would prompt me to extra bundling or the decision to drive and forgo the exercise and fresh air.

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Winter that isn’t — Record-breaking warming period persists, chilling winter activities

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

Depending on your perspective, the recent stretch of April-in-January weather in Alaska is a dark cloud or a silver lining. Dog mushers, skiers, ice fishermen and snowmachiners are missing out on their activities, while those not fond of snow and cold are enjoying the midwinter reprieve. Side roads are slick with ice from melting and refreezing snow, but shoveling hasn’t been required for a while. There have been reports of bears finding their winter naps disrupted, but moose, at least, are enjoying easy travel and a bounty of browse.

On whichever side one falls, both can agree to one thing — January has been the weird winter that wasn’t.

“If it weren’t for the low sun angle you’d think it was late April,” said Dave Snider, TV Desk lead meteorologist with the Anchorage National Weather Service Forecast Office in a forecast recording Jan. 24.

Using Anchorage as an example, the average high temperature usually stops hitting 40 degrees after Nov. 17 and doesn’t reach 40 again until April 4. The average low remains below 32 degrees after Nov. 12 and stays that way until April 22. Not so this January, which has become the warmest period from Jan. 1 to Jan. 23 on record since 1985. According to the NWS, Monday temperatures busted records across the state — Seward hit 61 degrees (previous record was 55 degrees in 2005), Homer reached 57 degrees (51 in 1994), Alyeska Resort in Girdwood also recorded 57 degrees (50 in 1995), Denali National Park hit 52 (51 in 1961), Nome reached 51 (46 in 1942), Talkeetna spiked at 47 (46 in 2004) and Soldotna recorded 50 degrees (40 in 1972). It was 7 degrees in Barrow on Monday, and minus 4 in Green Bay, Wis.

While the state has seen some high precipitation amounts — particularly in Southeast and Valdez, it’s mostly been coming down as rain. Snowpack has been rapidly decreasing across the state with as much as 2 feet of snow melting away in the last week in some parts of Prince William Sound and the Kenai Peninsula, according to the NWS.

Don’t expect that to change on the peninsula in the next week, with the NWS forecasting chances of rain or mixed rain and snow and continued above-freezing temperatures.

While Alaska has fast-forwarded to spring this month it seems to have exported winter weather to the Lower 48, with snowstorms and severe cold plaguing the Midwest on down to the Gulf Coast.

This weather pattern is called an Arctic Oscillation. The fast-moving winds of the jet stream steer the weather we experience at the surface, Snider said.

“The south-to-north orientation that flow, at the upper levels of the atmosphere, latches onto some tropical moisture and heat across the Pacific and produces the weather we’ve experienced,” he said.

Cooler air from the north is being ferried on down south. A ridge of high pressure extending from the western Lower 48 up through British Columbia and Alaska is holding the inverted temperatures in place.

“Convection, which is upward-moving air, has been going full tilt across the tropical Pacific Ocean, so much so that the area involved would cover twice the size of the Lower 48 United States. That’s the source of the moisture making it to Alaska. And if that continues, the ridge of high pressure over Alaska could remain intact,” Snider said.

The latest forecast model predicts that the high-pressure ridge will most likely hold into February, although Snider said the NWS has low confidence in that model at this time. The silver lining for winter enthusiasts in Alaska is the possibility that as this North America high-pressure ridge breaks down the North Pacific jet stream could shift to the west.

“Which could lead to more of a northerly flow across Alaska. That means it’s going to get colder, more like late January or early February-type weather,” Snider said.

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Talking temps with social media — Technology makes it easier than ever to stay informed

Image from the National Weather Service Alaska Facebook Page, showing a forecast graphic of an approaching storm, posed Nov. 19. It’s now more easy than ever to get detailed, current weather and travel condition information in Alaska, with the NWSA, Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities and other agencies participating in social media.

Image from the National Weather Service Alaska Facebook Page, showing a forecast graphic of an approaching storm, posed Nov. 19. It’s now more easy than ever to get detailed, current weather and travel condition information in Alaska, with the NWSA, Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities and other agencies participating in social media.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

Know before you go.

That old adage is relevant when undertaking any travel in any region, but perhaps even more so in Alaska. It’s certainly as important as ever in Alaska, where severe weather and challenging conditions can whip up at any time and are particularly dangerous in the vast stretches of middle of nowhere that still exist in the state.

“However you get your weather, it’s just as important for people not to take chances, to reduce their risk through knowledge,” said Audrey Rubel, regional communications manager for the National Weather Service Alaska.

It’s also easier than ever to know before you go. With advances in technology and increasing utilization of social media, not only is there more information available, it’s shared in many more ways. These days, anyone with Internet access can have a world of weather and safety information right at their fingertips:

See how foggy it is along Turnagain Arm in your Facebook feed, get a text message warning of a developing tsunami after an earthquake in the Aleutians, watch a long-term forecast any time you’d like, visually check whether the Seward Highway has been plowed after a snowstorm, get a Tweet about increased activity at Mount Redoubt Volcano, be notified of the expected wait time at a roadwork site along your morning commute.

The older, more standard ways of sharing information still exist — the National Weather Service still provides NOAA weather radio, media outlets still do weather reports, the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities still sends out notices of maintenance issues and planned roadwork, and the like. But these agencies and more also are making an increasingly proactive effort to communicate directly with people through social media.

“What it boils down to is real, serious issues, with forecasts and questions, will be directed to our forecast offices, but we do share a lot of information out via Twitter and via Facebook, at the national level and at the regional level here in Alaska,” Rubel said. “It’s still not an ‘official’ means of communications, but it is a way that we reach out with this experimental service to reach more customers. It’s a nationwide push but it’s probably especially important to us in Alaska because our weather’s so severe and we have so many people who are in remote communities. That probably increases our need for a variety of services.”

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Winds wreak havoc — HEA responds to latest in month of storm outages

By Jenny Neyman

Photos courtesy of Homer Electric Association. An HEA crew works to repair a power line on South Miller Loop in Nikiski after a downed tree took out the line in a Nov. 2 storm.

Redoubt Reporter

Getting angry at the weather is an exercise in futility. Getting angry at the utility service for power outages caused by the weather is just about as productive.

Kenai Peninsula residents have had their patience tested on both accounts the last month and a half, as a series of winter storms have blown through Southcentral Alaska, dumping snow and rain, turning roads into rutted ice chutes with thawing and refreezing temperatures, and whipping up wind gusts clocked at 50 mph. The storms have clobbered the power grid, causing hundreds more outages among Homer Electric Association customers in November and so far this December than any of the five preceding years, with some outages affecting thousands of customers at a time, and some lasting a day or more.

The latest outages came with strong winds Sunday, with an outage Sunday morning affecting about 2,300 homes in Soldotna, and outages Sunday night affecting about 1,800 homes between Kenai and Soldotna, about 590 homes from the start of Kalifornsky Beach Road in Kasilof to the VIP subdivision in Kenai, and along Echo Lake Road.

“We’re doing pretty good as of right now, we’ve got everything taken care of,” said Joe Gallagher, HEA spokesman, on Monday. “It was a busy weekend.”

As frustrating as it may be to lose power repeatedly and for long stretches — especially in winter in Alaska when loss of electricity can also mean loss of heat and water — Gallagher said that HEA customers have been patient with the situation.

“These outages, as inconvenient as they are, people really are understanding about what’s going on. Even though we’ve had a number of outages, they’ve all been related to storms, and so while people’s power is out, they’re just looking out their front window and seeing the trees blowing back and forth,” Gallagher said. “On the public relations part of things, it has been actually kind of an eye-opener that people are really understanding about their power being out because they realize the conditions.”

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Windy low-pressure fronts hightailing it out of here

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

Anyone wishing for a reprieve from recent windstorms and a return to more normal winter weather on the Kenai Peninsula may just get that wish for Christmas.

According to Dave Stricklan, a hydro-meteorological technician with the National Weather Service’s Anchorage Forecast Office, Southcentral is in line for one more low-pressure system to blow through early this week — though nowhere near as severe as recent storms to hit the area in November and December — before the pattern is expected to change.

“By Thursday we’re going to start seeing the highs in 20s and lows in the teens, more normal temps compared to the 30s we’ve been seeing. It’s going to be kind of a gradual change. It’s not going to be a big, all-of-a-sudden huge cold air in behind it, like we see a lot of times,” Stricklan said. “You guys should be done with the winds for a little while.”

Southcentral has been pummeled by winter storms with high winds recently, resulting in widespread power outages and dangerous driving conditions. Anchorage has clocked extreme gusts of up to 105 mph. On the peninsula, winds have been less intense, though record keeping isn’t as thorough here as in Anchorage, so it’s possible winds have been stronger than official records let on.

Still, Stricklan said that the Kenai Municipal Airport recorded a gust of 51 mph Dec. 18. Also on Dec. 18, a gust of 51 mph was recorded in Seldovia, and 47 mph in Nikiski. On Dec. 10 and 11, Homer recoded wind speeds of 41 mph, and winds were whipping at 38 mph in Nikiski and 44 mph in Seldovia. On Dec. 4, winds were recorded at 41 mph in Nikiski and in the 30s at other stations on the peninsula. Continue reading

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Wild water in inlet — Waterspout spotted off Anchor Point

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

Robin Lipinski is used to the unusual when looking out over Cook Inlet. Endlessly variable vistas are part of why he lives where he does, about three miles north of the Anchor River, in Anchor Point, overlooking the inlet.

“You never know what you’re gonna see out there, either ship traffic or weather,” Lipinski said.

In his seven years in that spot, or even his time in the Coast Guard, commercial fishing or as a charter fishing operator, what he saw on the water Wednesday afternoon was a first for him.

A 30-foot-diamater waterspout, whirling to life midinlet and sweeping toward shore, gorging itself on water sucked from the surface, spewing spray 40 to 50 feet in the air. If it had been on land, Lipinski figures it was strong enough to rip tin off a roof.

“It was a big white funnel that was hanging off the bottom of the cloud, then you could see it moving toward the east. The water was really just boiling,” Lipinski said. “If there were any little minnows on the surface of the water they went for a ride.”

He had been hanging shingles on his house Wednesday around 3:30 p.m., enjoying a rare period of fall warmth and calm air. Out on the water, however, conditions were not as mild.

“One side of the inlet was sunny, the other side of the inlet where the funnel was coming from was one of those big cumulonimbus clouds — one of those big thunderhead-looking things. It was actually pretty warm, and I think that’s why it formed. I think it was hot meeting cold,” Lipinski said. “It’s this time of year, I guess, when the weather’s changing. It’s winter one day, summer the next.” Continue reading

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Go snow — Lovers of white stuff rejoice; Pushers of shovels think twice

By Jenny Neyman

Photo courtesy of Clark Fair, Redoubt Reporter. Screaming with delight as they glide toward a jump are, from left, Freya Chay, Carolyn Knackstedt, Michelle Klaben and Eve Ferguson.

Redoubt Reporter

Were this weekend’s snowfall equivalent to powdered sugar, this was no mere dusting, but full-blown sugar shock.

The novelty, alone, of the season’s first appreciable snowfall in the Kenai-Soldotna area was enough to draw attention. The volume of it — 10-plus inches of wet, heavy white stuff — invariably incited strong feeling about it. The flavor of those feelings depended on one’s interaction with it.

Drivers churning through slushy streets reminiscent of spring breakup, shovelers slopping the waterlogged mass and residents losing electricity as the clingy snow weighted down power lines were of one opinion about it — an opinion not shared by those who see snow as recreation.

In a neighborhood off Kalifornsky Beach Road on Sunday, the whine of snowmachines and shrieks of kids building forts and snowmen, rolling out angels and diving through snowball fights masked the rhythmic scrapes of shovels on driveways and the escalating screech of tires scrolling for traction.

“Yeah, it packs good,” said Liam Miller, 9, of Kenai, as he and his older brother, Jarin Miller, and friend, Jaycee Herrmann, alternated

Photo by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. From left, Liam Miller, Jarin Miller and Jaycee Herrmann work on a snowman Sunday.

between snowman and snowball construction.

At Tsalteshi Trails behind Skyview High School, Charlotte Harvey, of Soldotna, was packing her skis back in her car around noon Sunday, having just made a loop around the trails. It beats walking on them, she said. On Saturday the snow was up to her knees and too wet for skiing to be anything other than an exercise in determination. By Sunday the precipitation was more snow than slush and a few loops had been groomed.

“This stuff will be a nice base. It makes it worth it getting dark sooner,” Harvey said. Continue reading

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