Alaska’s Weird Weather   Leave a comment

I know most people envision Alaska as a vast icefield 12 months out of the year, but the fact is we do get summer and in the Interior, you can get a sunburn and even, if you’re not careful, heat stroke.

The winter of 2013 was the winter that refused to end. It was still snowing in May. By snowing, I mean we were still shoveling and there were ski races for May Day. We hiked into our cabin site mid-May in tank tops because it was 60-odd degrees, but we were hip deep in snow. The ground was still frozen 18 inches down on Memorial weekend. The winter of 2013 was the winter of that refused to end.

It was followed by the best summer Interior Alaska has seen since I attained voting age. So 30 years. Imagine 20+ hours of sunlight with daytime temperatures in the 80s. The evenings don’t cool off because the sun doesn’t go down. You can read a book on your deck at midnight without a lamp. Some years we get a few days of that around the solstice (June 21), but this year, we had weeks of it and the “shoulder season” continued with temperatures in the 70s and virtually no rain. The military set fire to a forest to celebrate, but that was pretty much the only weather damper we had all summer. It didn’t even rain during the Tanana Valley Fair. It ALWAYS rains during the fair! It’s such an inside joke that when friends call from out of state who used to live here and ask how is the weather, if we say “it’s fair weather” they know it’s pouring. But it didn’t rain this year at the fair — at all.

And now it appears that this winter is never going to start. A week ago, it was so warm that my johnny-jump-ups came back for a false spring. It was 57 degrees on Monday. In my lifetime, I’ve known four Halloweens without snow. This would be one of them — assuming the snow holds off for another 12 hours.

For the record, I like snow, but am not unhappy with it being three weeks late. Also for the record, although I accept cold weather as the price for living near a vast wilderness, I could live without minus 30 below — for the entire winter. We still go out and enjoy the great outdoors to minus 20.

I believe in global warming. I think the worldwide temperatures are or have been on the rise. I don’t think human beings are having any appreciable effect on it. The scientists at the Geophysical Institute here at University of Alaska Fairbanks say the sun was getting warmer for a while, but was in a solar minimum for several years. Mars is undergoing the same warming followed by a cooling trend that we’ve been experiencing. The Vikkings farmed in southern Greenland a thousand years ago, too. Ships sailed through the Northwest Passage for a couple of summers in the 1880s. The planet has warmed before … and cooled. Ain’t nothing new under the sun.

Alaskans would benefit from global warming because it would lengthen our growing season, allowing us to be food self-sufficient. Sure, it would also melt permafrost and cause roads to heave and crack and houses to settle. That’s not new. That’s been happening here for the 100+ years English-speakers have been here to keep record. It happened before we got here, there was just no one to record it. Just as our ancestors adapted to this harsh land with its weird weather and strange soils, my generation needs to adapt to this less harsh land with its still weird weather and perhaps warmer soils. And just about the time we adapt, things will change as the sun goes through another cycle and we’ll need to dust off our memories to deal with the returned former conditions.

Every generation of mankind wants to believe that we are somehow living in a unique age that requires us to wrestle control of the environment. This delusion is not new to us. Not long after the Vikkings farmed in southern Greenland, the priests of the Alps started making offerings to the glaciers in hopes of stopping their advance into what had been productive farmland. It didn’t work because human beings are ants compared to the global climate.

Mankind has delusions of grandeur when we suppose we can control the environment. We can’t. The global environment is enthrall to the solar system. Anything we puny little ants do is the equivalent of trying to steer an aircraft carrier with a teaspoon. Even if we could nudge global temperatures in one direction or another, we don’t know if what we do would have a beneficial or negative effect. That forest fire the military caused this summer was partially caused by 50 years of fire suppression that left our forests full of a lot of fuel that burns very hot and is very hard to put out.  More often than not, when we mess with nature, we mess it up.

We should accept our status in the solar system and spend our efforts on adapting to whatever the environment does instead of trying to steer the Titanic with a teaspoon.

Posted October 31, 2013 by aurorawatcherak in Alaska, Climate change, Common sense

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