Bad wind rising

The lull before the storm in the Chugach Front Range above Anchorage Sunday/Craig Medred photo

With new, loose snow more than a foot deep in the mountains that shade Anchorage and hurricane-force winds in the forecast for Monday evening, Alaska’s largest city appeared poised to be clobbered by the perfect holiday storm.

Welcome back to the bad old days.

“People are urged to secure loose objects that could be blown around or damaged by the wind,” the official National Weather Service statement advises. “Prepare for the possibility of widespread power outages. Use caution if you must drive.”

After a string of winters that were starting to make the nation’s largest northern outpost look like it was settling into a balmier, new normal, Mother Nature appears to hitting back.

The shift actually started with the beginning of 2020 when the warmest year in the 49th state’s history shivered into the old cold. On New Year’s Eve of 2019, snow-free, 45-degree downtown streets were splattered with rain.

By midnight however, the temperature had dropped to 25 degrees, and the snow was falling heavily. By noon on New Year’s day, the National Weather Service reported snow depths of 7 inches to almost 22 inches spread across the Municipality of Anchorage.

The rest of the season was not particularly snowy by Anchorage standards but it was more than seasonal. January was almost 11 degrees colder than normal, February a friendlier degree and a half below the norm, and March more than five degrees under the climate normal average of the years from 1981 to 2010.

Alaska’s urban core didn’t really begin to warm until about the time the pandemic arrived in the 49th state, but then few were complaining.

The preceding winter conditions left the land covered in snow and ice prime for winter travel, and a state shutdown to “flatten the curve” of the pandemic resulted in large numbers of snowmobilers, fat-bike cyclists, skiers and others flocking to summer-inaccessible glaciers. 

Thankfully, the wide-open spaces of the country’s last great wilderness left plenty of room for social distancing, and the number of COVID-19 infections in the state fell even as some wilderness lovers complained about the swelling numbers of people at the glaciers nearest Anchorage.

An Alaska-style crowd of fat-bike cyclists at the Knik Glacier in April/Craig Medred photo

Back to the future?

Anchorage is now on pace for a rather normal year with the months of January through April averaging nearly four and a half degrees colder than normal only to see May through October average just under two degrees above normal before transitioning into a near normal November and December.

And now comes more of the normal.

Almost a foot of snow has fallen on the city proper since Tuesday, according to National Weather Service records, with powder to two-feet deep reported in places on the slopes of the Chugach Mountains that tower over the Anchorage Bowl.

Much of that powder is expected to soon be airborne.

By 9 p.m. Monday, the weather service is predicting east winds 50 to 65 mph “with gusts 80 to 100 mph” on the hillsides above Anchorage and along the Seward Highway from the city east to the ski-resort community of Girdwood.

This isn’t expected to be the end of it either. Snow is in the forecast for the whole week with warnings it could be heavy in some places or turn to rain in others.

Temperatures through the week are forecast to oscillate between the mid-30s and high teens. It is was might be called classic winter weather for the north Gulf of Alaska where the snow regularly piles so deep that deer can’t survive and moose often struggle to do so.




10 replies »

  1. Craig: The advice near the top of this piece “to secure loose objects that could be blown around” reminded me of an incident clear back in the era when you and I were living in Moore Hall on the UAF campus. Remember how, when UA Physical Plant was going to work on any campus utilities, they would post notice on their memorandum letterhead as to what would be shut off and when?

    Well, there came a time when somebody got hold of some of that letterhead, and posted notice that GRAVITY would be shut off on campus. Their advice included something like “tie down all heavy objects” and the unforgettable “do not attempt to use or flush toilets”.

    Hope this little blast from the past gives you a chuckle.

  2. BTW Craig, How do subscribers send story suggestions to you? I wanted to ask if you have seen several documentaries on Magellan TV about the history of sugar, the sugar industry, and worldwide obesity. And to think our government subsidizes the industry to our common detriment.

    • Chris,theres more to that story with regards to sugar industry.
      My spotty memory cant do it justice,but they basically controlled the FDA agenda with regards to dietary recommendations.I want to say starting in the ‘50’s.
      The cliff note version is”sugar ok,fat is bad.”
      Fat and oils were demonized and sugar (sweeteners),
      given a pass.
      I think it all came out under FOIA

  3. Dammit, my 2 year old snowblower fails me at my time of need. The engine runs good and the wheel drive works fine but the augers are somehow locked up so the drive belt smokes and slips.
    Even though stored in a shed, I suspect water/ice in the auger drive shaft system. Having no garage, I put it under a tarp with an electric heater overnight. I haven’t had these kinds of problems in years.
    Ill try it at daybreak.

    • Good luck Chris.. Had a Cub Stage 3. Hated that auger..but, lucky for us it will be only a matter of hours before “Global Warming” melts it all away. Right???

  4. Wind seems to be about the only thing the national weather service is able to even closely ‘predict’ in Alaska, and in the Mat-us valley, half the time, not even that. They are wrong far more than they are right yet they spend lots of federal dollars, causing other government agencies, and private sector, to (knee-jerk) react to the ‘predictions’,spending more money. In the Matsu valley it is ridiculous how many times you see state sand trucks out in force dumping sand on bare roads for naught. Wasting money and spewing more fossil fuel byproducts into the air. I have heard all of the arguments about wind currents etc and the difficulty of weather ‘science’ in Alaska. Ok then, why bother? Stop wasting money. The Farmers Almanac is far more accurate.
    Good grief.

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