A bright sun was smiling on Alaska’s largest snow-covered and frozen city on Sunday as the temperature climbed to 29 degrees – nine degrees below normal for the day.
Welcome to an old-fashioned spring in the new far north.
The chill of 2020 keeps hanging on.
January averaged 7 degrees colder than the normal in Anchorage, according to the National Weather Service (NWS). That came as a bit of shock after a string of climate-change winters that left many adjusted to the month being more like 7 degrees warmer than normal.
The chill did fade a little in February. The month was only 1.5 degrees below the norm, according to the NWS.
Then came March to somewhat split the difference between January and February. As the month draws to an end, it is running 4.6 degrees colder, the NWS says.
This wasn’t supposed to happen in globally warming world.
All the climate models were forecasting another warmer than normal winter for the 49th state with the National Climate Center’s “Winter Outlook” saying “the greatest likelihood for warmer-than-normal conditions…(is) in Alaska and Hawaii….”
By New Year’s Day, though, there were indications the new Alaska was about to revert back to being the old Alaska.
Not that a real winter is a bad thing in the Last Frontier where ice and snow have long been the norms. Alaskans live with something of a love-hate relationship for these conditions.
Most, like humans everywhere, don’t exactly enjoy shivering, and few – snowplow truck drivers making money off snow removal being a key exception – relish the effort required to keep driveways, sidewalks, and sometimes roofs and other areas around the home snow free in a heavy snow winter.
But snow and cold are near miraculous aids to travel in a land with few roads. Most of the communities in Alaska remain unconnected by asphalt, but in winter you can in places drive for hundreds of miles between them by snowmachine or even, sometimes, car or truck.
“That’s longer than most traditional highways in the state, but it’s likely a bit rougher in places since that road is a frozen river.”
Bethel is a regional hub 400 miles – the distance from the nation’s capital to Cincinnati – west of Anchorage. The Alaska road system ends at Homer on south end of the Kenai Peninsula about 350 miles short of Bethel.
The ice road allowed Bethel residents for a brief time to travel the way other Americans do in heated motor vehicles instead of exposed to the weather while on the seat of a snowmachine, or what most outside of Alaska call a snowmobile.
Others parts of Alaska benefited from this travel bonanza as well, though there were those places where some thought Mother Nature over did it with snow and cold.
Alaska’s most famous winter trail was buried under so much snow that the Iditarod Trail Invitational, a human-powered race, slowed to an old-fashioned trudge, and the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race worried the same would happen to it although trail-breaking snowmachines help lessen the problem for the competitors in the Last Great Race.
And with the Iditarod in the rear view mirror, the days getting long (Anchorage now has more than 13 hours of daylight), the COVID-19 pandemic putting many out of work, health officials advocating social distancing, and March conditions ideal for snow travel, Alaskans have begun spreading out across the countryside in significant numbers.
It’s not a cure for the pandemic disease, but the Vitamin D from the bright sunshine might have offer some protection. And there is the possibility such escapes could offset the nocebo effect that can generate various disease-like symptoms in some people even if they aren’t sick.
Alaska offers a lot of way to escape the news. Glaciers hard to reach in the summer appeared to be among the major attraction for many now.
East of Anchorage, people are hiking and cycling across frozen and snow-covered Portage Lake to get close to the Portage Glacier, or fat-biking, skiing and snowmachining up the Placer River to get to Skookum Glacier, an attraction normally hidden behind a near impassable jungle of alder and willow brush now buried so deep in snow as to be nearly invisible.
How long the easy travel will last no one knows. The weather around the Anchorage Metro area has warmed just enough to allow for some consolidation of the snowpack.
The snow softens in the heat of the day and then refreezes at night. In such condtions, morning snow can exist as something like white pavement until it begins to warm again beneath the midday sun.
Night-time temperatures are expected to stay in the single digits and teens until April when some new snow moves in.