From south to north, the dynamism that makes Alaska such an interesting place to live was on display over the weekend.
First it was Bear Glacier Lagoon, a huge glacial lake south of Seward, busting its way out to Resurrection Bay, a finger of the North Pacific Ocean. Then it was the remnants of Typhoon Shanshan roaring into coastal Alaska with near hurricane force winds.
And finally it was the North Slope, home to the state’s oil- and money-pumping Prudhoe Bay oil field, riding the wave of an unexpected earthquake.
“It’s an amazing environment,” said Deborah Kurtz, the physical science program manager for Kenai Fiords National Park, which was monitoring the fall of the Bear Glacier Lagoon.
All of this comes just days after the Washington Post newspaper declared Anchorage, the state’s largest city, the unnicest city in the country because, well, it’s in Alaska where there is no lack of excitement but a shortage of days between 65 and 85 degrees, which is how the Post defined “nice.”
No arguing with that. Alaska is decidedly not Southern California with four sunny, warm and predictable communities leading climatologist Brian Brettschneider’s list of places with “the most days with nice weather.”
Fine if you like predictable and Christmas sans snow.
Alaska is a more interesting land of the unpredictable and the extreme, like the wave trains of grass flowing across the mountains of the Chugach Front Range on Sunday:
They appeared thanks to the remnants of Typhoon Shanshan spinning out of the North Pacific. But as far as natural phenomena go, Anchorage Hillside winds couldn’t begin to compare to the draining of Bear Glacier Lagoon or especially the rattling of the North Slope, which set national media into a tizzy.
That pronouncement was sure to leave even new Alaskans slapping their heads in disbelief given the excitement around the much bigger, 7.9 earthquake in the Gulf of Alaska that shook the state’s urban underbelly in January.
You remember, right? The earthquake that made 48-year-old Larry Pestrikoff momentarily famous.
With people all around the Gulf of Alaska and south into British Columbia, Canada waiting nervously for the arrival of a tidal wave – a potentially deadly tsunami – Pestrikoff went live on Facebook from Spruce Island near Kodiak to tell them what to expect, which turned out to be nothing.
Pestrikoff has since moved to Anchorage and found that sustaining traffic for news or information online is no easy task. When big news breaks, people want information, and they want it now, and they will find it in the strangest corners of the web.
But on many a day, a lot of people aren’t much interested in the news at all. Pestrikoff had more than 100,000 watching him for one night, and then it was over.
Maybe if there were major earthquakes more often, or if barrier beaches parted like the Red Sea to let lagoons the size of major lakes run free to the ocean….
The strongest-ever earthquake, incidentally (or at least the strongest ever recorded), was the 1960 Valdivia or “Great Chilean” earthquake in South America. It measured 9.4 to 9.6 on the Richter scale and killed 1,000 to 7,000 people.
The Richter scale is logarithmic; so a 9.4 eartquakes is orders of magnitude bigger than a 6.4.
It measured 7.9 and was felt as far away as Seattle. It was not felt farther south, but generated standing waves as far away as Texas and Louisiana.
When Alaska rocks, sometimes the whole continent rolls.
It was the “strongest-ever earthquake” in Alaska, and left about 140 people dead in total. The North Slope shaker was by comparison not much more than passing news, but big enough to bury the Bear Glacier Lagoon blowout that preceded it and the Shanshan blow that rattled most of the state’s inhabited coast.
But if there was even the possibility some oil might spill….
As Reuters noted, the quake was near “an area the U.S. Interior Department plans to lease for petroleum exploration along ANWR’s coastal plain, which had been off-limits to fossil fuel development until a provision was enacted as part of President Donald Trump’s 2017 tax bill.”
“Strong earthquakes are not uncommon in seismically active Alaska, but they tend to occur in remote, sparsely populated regions where there is little or no damage,” the news agency added.
“Remote, sparsely populated regions” would define most of the state. So the odds are quakes will occur there, or out in the even more “remote, sparsely populated” North Pacific, but they do sometimes tend to radiate into the “populated regions.”
Earthquakes are one of those things that make Alaska less than nice. Add in the winds – 100 mph and higher gusts are not uncommon on the Anchorage Hillside – and the rain and the snow and, oh yes, the bears and you have all things that make the state and its largest city unnice.
Brettschneider, the author of the Post story, it should be noted is an Alaska resident. The story did not disclose if he is one of those who have been heard to opine during any string of extended warm and sunny weather that “thank God, it isn’t always like this or this place would be another California.”
California is home to almost 40 million people, or more than 240 people per square mile. Alaska is home to fewer than 740,000, and when more than 200 occupy any square mile the area is declared a census designated place, the U.S. government designation for a scattered community.