Monday, December 8, 2008

A Little Perspective

I was listening to the radio out in the shop, talking about how bad the weather is in the Midwest. They interviewed a bunch of people from Milwaukee and Chicago and other such blighted places, all crying and moaning about how bad the current winter storm is.


You're kidding, right?

At the beginning of last week, it was below zero here. Then it warmed up a bit, just enough to snow about a foot to eighteen inches, depending where exactly in the Valley you were. Then, starting on Friday last, it warmed up a lot more, 35F or so.

Then it rained.

All weekend.

Not enough to melt the snow, you understand, just enough to coat everything in layers of wet frictionless ice.

Today, right at this moment, according to my weatherbug gadget the temperature is back down to 25F and all that ice is now rock hard - and at the Palmer Airport the wind is roaring steady at 40MPH and here at Stonekettle Station it's gusting between 50 and 60 MPH strong enough to shake the house like an earthquake and rip branches off the trees.

If you step outside into the ice hockey rink that purports to be my driveway, the wind will push you across the ice into the trees - unless you are wearing crampons (which I am, at the moment). And still you need to keep low, otherwise the wind will flip onto your ass when your crampons stick in the ice and you can't move fast enough to adjust your balance. Shards of ice, blown off the trees and propelled by hurricane force winds, like to blind you and rip the flesh off of your hide. And you really don't want to know what the wind chill factor is right now.

Open your car door with your vehicle facing the wrong way, and the wind will rip that door right off your truck. I saw it happen twice today, not to me fortunately.

Winter, in Alaska. We've got about six more months of this.

So, Midwesterners? Please, come spend a weekend up here. Then go home - and shut the fuck up. Thanks.


  1. It's 35 F here!


    All my snow is melting!



  2. Have you checked out the weather in Juneau? They're supposed to have 10 inches for today by 7 PM and are getting another 10 overnight.

    No SNOW DAYS or anything else. As my friend Gab just said in chat "I'm braving the snow to go get a manicure. Because Alaskans have priorities."

    SNOW DAYS. What a crock. I'm looking at you, Mr. Powers.

  3. I'll let you know when we get our first Storm Watch of the season. There will be regular bulletins if more than 3" of snow is expected and even more if the temp is going to dip DANGEROUSLY low...like into the 20's.

    They're total weather pussies here.

  4. We got lots of snow days here.

    But that may have something to do with the fact that most roads are cut into the mountainside, so if you don't crash into the mountain, you drop off the road into the river.

    I think that snow helps weed out that bad drivers.

  5. Hey, Jim, one of the most recent books I plowed through was Dan Simmons' The Terror. It's a horror novel...

    ...about the Sir John Franklin expedition. Sure, it's fiction (it's unlikely the real Franklin was eaten by a monster), but fairly well researched fiction about one of the great mysteries of the 19th century.

    I started reading it because things got mildly chilly here in the southeast, and my sense of cold has now been seriously re-calibrated, ya whiner. Here's a typical quote from Simmons:

    On 1 July, after weeks of warming weather, the cold and snow returned in earnest. A blizzard blew out of the southeast....

    35F°? Those dudes would have been stripping to their skivvies and doing a happy dance--as you probably know.

    Enjoy the heat wave. The ghost of Sir John envies you. :-)

  6. And to think that I wanted to move to Alaska when I was a kid. Not anymore, given that I wouldn't be able to walk on ice even with crampons (whatever they are, and I can't even say what I thought you were saying when I first read this post, because it might cause all of the men who read your blog to freak out and faint or something). Ahem. Sorry.

    As for freaking out about 3 inches -- feh! I live right outside DC. We don't need actual snow to have the weather people and news announcers acting like it is the end of the world. Husband and I call it the "Toilet Paper and Milk Syndrome". They close the schools for the threat of snow; forget the real thing. AAAAAHHHH. Granted I grew up in NJ, not the Great White North by any stretch of the imagination, but Yeesh. This is the first year that I will have to deal with the public school snow day system. Not. Looking. Forward.


  7. I've been thinking about getting John the Dan Simmons book. John took a Northern Studies class on the history of arctic exploration. I have had to hear about Franklin and co for years and years. and years. and years.

  8. NeuronDoc, Crampon . Feminine hygiene products do not give a very good grip on ice, and they are difficult to strap to your boot.

    I've got a set of lightweight grippers that I usually wear, but they don't work too well in the wind and the glare ice. Crampon, these things work great as long as you move slow and pay attention.

    I can't afford to fall on the ice. If I land on my shoulder I'll be in the hospital plugged into a morphine pump and popping percocet for a week. No friggin' thanks.

  9. I dunno Jim, I think that adhering a pantiliner to the bottom of one's leather soled dress shoes might be a great emergency non-slip save, until they iced over... or until the creative owner of said shoes crossed his/her legs in a business meeting. ;)

    Sounds positively icky. I'm so looking forward to my trip.

    This week's a zoo with no spare time, but I'll give you a call next week, I'm there Mon-Thu.

  10. cool beans, by all means give me a call

  11. Eric, I'll have to look up the Dan Simmons book, once I get through the distressingly large pile of stuff here on my desk, and I finish proof reading a couple novels and novellas and shorts for various and sundry.

    Have you ever read Sir Ernest Shackleton's Endurance? Holy Crap, and that story is true.

  12. Tania: it's a good read, and I blew through it pretty quickly. Ironically, the parts that are ultimately least-effective are the supernatural horror bits; scurvy + food poisoning + lead poisoning + freezing to death = more than enough to frighten and disgust all on their combined own. Simmons could have written it "straight" and it would have still been pretty terrifying.

    The Franklin expedition appears, from the few remnants found and what we've pieced together about the contemporary weather, to have been a case of every single freakin' thing that could go wrong actually up and going wrong. Just thinking about it makes you happy to be able to pour yourself a big glass of orange juice and stick your feet next to the grate.

  13. Jim - I haven't read the Shackleton, but I know a little bit of the history. Brutal stuff, but his men fared better than Franklin.

    But yeah, 100% agreement on the "holy shit that's true" front. Kind of like what I feel about Simmons' book: the true stuff is a helluva lot less scary than the made up stuff. The ice doesn't suffer fools in either hemisphere.

  14. Yep - read Endurance, then Cherry-Gerard's 'Worst Journey in the World' - also true (I can loan). Then read Scott's journal. And Nansen, and Amundsen... :)

    -23 on this side of town, just another day...

  15. Ya know, we here in northeastern Ohio make fun of the people in central Ohio about their paralysis over 2 inches if snow. Most of it has to do with the lack of preparedness - why would Columbus, which rarely gets more than 2 inches before it melts off - have snow plows for a city of some 500K+ if they're only going to be used every three-four years?

    I do remember one very bad winter where it was consistently under 0 degrees F for about a month and Anchorage was in the 40s at the same time. That was probably when global cooling was the big issue.


  16. Jeri, you slay me. I am glad that I didn't have anything in my mouth when I read that. I just can't figure out how to make them sticky enough on both sides...

    Natalie -- wiping tears still.

  17. Amusing that you got the snow*rain*freeze cycle so common down here, too. Frankly, I'd rather have U.P. weather, where it mostly remembers to get cold and stay cold, thank you very much.

    We're looking at winds gusting 30-50mph tomorrow and mix of snow, freezing rain, sleet, ice and then it'll freeze. How is that different from Alaska? 35,000+ vehicles a day on highways with silly signs that say "SPEED LIMIT 70" and in the winter time idiots think those signs are meant for them.

    I'd stay home and declare myself a snow/ice day, like anyone with brains would, except it's Finals week.


    Dr. Phil

  18. Easily amused Neurondoc is easily amused.

    Cassie, I grew up in western Michigan. And yes, when I lived there I thought I knew what winter actually was. Since then I've lived in Iceland, Down East Maine (my God, you want to talk foul weather, Good Grief), and mostly Alaska. Midwest winters are, well, not a joke because they certainly can be brutal, but they're not the world ending disaster of biblical proportions portrayed by the media and the folks who live there either - that as NeuronDoc pointed out is when D.C. gets one flake split between Maryland and Virginia. ;)

    Like you said, cassie, it mostly about preparedness. Every year people in Chicago act surprised - Look! Snow! By God, we've never gotten snow in Chicago before! Call the National Guard, we're all gonna die!

  19. Well, see Phil, when it's like that in Michigan, people call it Lake Effect. Here in Alaska, that's just winter.

    Plus, as I recall you've got a monster automatic backup generator, I'd think you'd be looking forward to ice downed power lines, you know, for the gloating factor alone :)

  20. Ah, just wait until we have the first snow/ice warning here in Atlanta. such fun!! a media frenzy!

    The chicken littles will be in the stores, getting the obligatory milk, eggs, bread, sandwich fixings, beer, frozen microwave dinners... huh?? I always wonder how they cook the frozen food when the power's out.

    Personally, I keep a coleman camp stove and a couple of butane cylinders in a closet, so I can heat up coffe, soup, mac & cheese. You know, the essentials. Along with several flashlights of varied sizes with backup batteries.

    Dr Phil & I grew up outside Buffalo, with double lake effect snow most winters.


    PS - Actually, it was 50-ish here today, and we're expecting several days of rain before the end of the week.

  21. Vastly amusing - I've had to deal with weather whiners for years and when I finally did get one of my cousins to visit up here in January he was rendered speechless for a good 30 seconds before trying to tell me how much worse things are where he comes from "because it's the damp you see - makes the cold get into your bones - it's so dry up here you really don't feel the cold". All this said whilst burrowing into one of my older down coats and clutching a large brandy.

  22. I'll have you know it's 35F and raining here right now north of Chicago! How are we expected to deal with that!?!

    The worst part is the first snow fall and then every-fucking-one forgets how to drive. It's really not that hard, go a little slower and leave a little more room between you and the guy in front. There was a 25-car pile up on 94 last week or two weeks ago. Sheesh. And of course all the construction projects that were started about a week before the big snow don't help either.

  23. it's so dry up here you really don't feel the cold

    Ah, yes, MikeB, the infamous 'dry cold.' That's why dry ice feels warm.

    Weather satellites are showing what looks a hell of a lot like a giant hurricane centered right over the Gulf of Alaska. The winds are down to 25mph here this morning, but they were truly ferocious last night. I'll have to wait for the sun to come up to see if I've got any damage. I usually lose a shingle or two in these kinds of storms, and maybe a tree. We'll see.

    No matter how bad it gets, wind wise, it's nothing here compared to Shemya Island. When I lived out there, there were weeks sometimes where we couldn't go outside. Guys on duty, would just have to stay on duty, because it was too dangerous for their reliefs to cross the island from the barracks. Winters winds would routinely hit 80MPH. We once had one of our tactical antenna systems tear apart and fall over, $10 million crumpled like tinfoil, winds that night were recorded at 104MPH. That was not a good day. Really.

    I've also spent winter on the slope. Yeah, winter Chicago on the lake looks like Miami compared to -60 and 60MPH winds.

  24. I'll have you know Jim that it's now 37 and snowing! That's right, frozen water is falling from the sky in pretty, fluffy clumps!

    How are we supposed to deal with that in Chicago? It would appear that we're now fully in Chicago's second season of the year. That's right people, we've moved from construction to winter.

  25. So seasons in Chicago are "construction" and "half-done road work that's waiting for warm weather and more funding and if you don't like you can just drive the fuck somewhere else?"

    Because that's pretty much how I remember it :)

    On the other hand, you've got the Museum of Science and Industry - and that is just so damned cool that I'm willing to brave any kind of season to see it.

  26. Yeah, that pretty much sums it up for our seasons around here.

    If you do go to the museum, watch out for parking in the city. Mayor Daley just leased the city's parking meters for the next 75 years to a private company for $1.2 billion. The private company will be jacking up meter parking prices in some areas down town to as much as $6 an hour.

  27. Well, if I do drive to the MoSI, it'll be in a rental car. At six bucks an hour, it would be cheaper to abandon it in the parking lot and claim the insurance on my credit card. Bawahahahaha!

  28. This morning it's about 5F, and it's supposed to snow later on today. A little bit windy, gusts to 40 mph up in the hills.

    Dang, I sound like a NOAA/NWS recording. Hee!

  29. Something tells me, Jim, that you would've been annoyed by one of my Twitter posts this morning:

    45¤F in San Fernando Valley-I'm wearing gloves, scarf AND a KNIT HAT, people. That's not supposed to happen in SoCal, even in December.

    Of course it's bright and sunny, even if it is 59¤F right now. And the temps are supposed to get up to 70¤F today. But the worst thing about this morning? I ended up having Hat Bangs. Such a tragedy...

    I've turned into such a weather wimp, you'd never think that I was born in Chicago and spent my formative years in Rhode Island.

    I haven't read Endurance, but I did see the A&E mini-series about Shackleton with Kenneth Branagh. Whoa.

  30. Twitter? They got that on the Internet now?


    Hat Bangs? Uh....

    Nope, nevermind, not gonna go there. Nope won't do it.

  31. A 25-car pileup on I-94 due to wintry weather in Chicago is nothing. I remember back in '83, having to detour a hundred blocks around the mess on I-57 when the temperature soared above 100degF by 10am and the asphalt expanded too fast, leaving a hump in the southbound lanes. (a) The hump was six feet high. (b) Unsupported asphalt is not considered one of nature's strongest structural materials. One semi collapsed the road and cars began to shoot under the pavement on the other side of the break. 30-50 cars and trucks wrecked, all lanes closed southbound.

    But this is Chicago. The northbound gaper's block slowing just a bit to watch the carnage never paid attention to the large hump of asphalt on their side. You guessed it. Another 30 cars and trucks wrecked.

    After removing the wrecks, they cut slices out of the asphalt and temporarily laid it back down to fit. Said it was a Hundred Year thing. About ten years later...

    Ah, Chicago and paving contracts. Or in this case, paving expansions. (grin) I love telling this story in my classes.

    Dr. Phil

  32. Oh and the gloat factor of having a 12kW automatic generator? Brilliant -- provided one can slide back home in the ice storm first. (grin)

    More than ten years ago there was a massive ice storm in Indiana, and afterwards I had to drive down that way to a conference. Realizing that "high points" in north central Indiana mean a highway overpass, it was eerie in the waning daylight to ride up over another road and see dozens of blinking yellow lights all around from the electric utility trucks brought in from a dozen states, trying to restore all the downed lines.

    Mostly that sort of ice tracks south of us, but the changing weather patterns is moving that shit northward, hence the decision to get the generator. (grin)

    That and we're on a 220-volt well.

    Dr. Phil

  33. Crap, Phil, that's unreal. I suspect you discuss the importance of expansion joints in your class?

    Here in the Great White North (I'm including the Canadian Yukon and NW Territories) we get frost heaves. Basically the same as you describe, except that in this case it's the frozen wet muskeg that expands. You also get frost sags, where the ground drops a couple of feet.

    In the winter, driving the ALCAN, hundreds of miles into the middle of the Yukon, it's not uncommon to come across cars and trucks with both axles knocked completely off sitting on their chassis in the snow. People will get hypnotized by all that white, and find themselves tooling along at 70-80MPH. Then they hit a sag without warning...

    The freeze/thaw cycle produces some weird effects, from the air the tundra looks like a battlefield covered in bomb craters, or the ruined foundations of some long lost civilization who liked to build round buildings.

  34. Jim, they have everything on the internet now.

    As for Hat Bangs, ask your wife. I'm sure she'll know. It's relatively harmless, but tragic nonetheless.

    On Saturday my local outdoor mall had Snow Day for the kids. Manufactured snow was set up in a smallish area in the courtyardish spot, bordered by hay bales and completely overrun with kids who were having a blast in completely inappropriate shoes. It was so fun to watch and made me wistful for my snow-angel days in Rhode Island. CuteFilmNerd looked on and smiled, saying, "Exactly how snow should be: fake and contained." He doesn't miss Iowa winters at all.

    Then again, I haven't experienced a real winter since I was a kid. Him? The late '90s.

  35. Be careful Jim... you do realize I can bore you to tears describing the geomorphology and history/development of arctic and sub-arctic landforms? BS in Geography, equivalent of a minor in Geology, lots of landscape analysis. Oh, and hours and hours as a small child spent in small planes looking out the window going "what's that?".

    The pingo is my favorite. It's cool and has a great name.

  36. Manufactured snow. Uh. OK.
    ::shake head in disbelief:: manufactured snow, what'll they think of next?::

    Tania, what you're failing to understand here is that I find that type of topic fascinating.

    You never know when a knowledge of geomorphology might come in handy. Say like when trying to move 390 tons of supposedly mobile military equipment over it, for example. Or better yet, world building in a novel, which is better and involves much less cursing of the evil and sadistic geology gods.

  37. I won't bore all of you with the balmy 64 F in Atlanta at the moment with variable wind gust up to 20 mph. Boring.

    To be followed of course by 2 days of rain as the system that's dumping snow and ice in the midwest at the moment drags its tail through the south. yuck.

    Now if that cold front would trail with it, the 1-2 inches of rain we're expecting would be at least a foot or so of snow...much less boring.

  38. Jim says (in reference to world-building): involves much less cursing of the evil and sadistic geology gods.

    In this case you get to be the evil and sadistic geology god. Is it fun?


  39. A foot of snow in Atlanta? Yeah, I'm guessing that would reduce the boredom factor, Wendy, in a chaos, end of days, four horsemen of the apocalypse sort of way.

    Which would certainly be something to see.

  40. is it fun?

    Well, yes, sometimes. In the current novel, I did manage to work in muskeg and buried glaciers and permafrost and the unpleasant and disastrous consequences of attempting to land a fusion powered spacecraft on such (imagine the chunks of ice, mixed into rock and gravel, flashing into superheated steam - bad, bad, very bad, like throwing yourself onto a grenade bad).

  41. See references to the Blizzard of 1993. My nice southern friends kept calling to check on me and make sure I was ok.

    Yeah, I was fine and my complex kept power throughout. But most were iced into their powerless homes and couldn't get to my toasty warm place.

    Besides, being from western NY, I was experienced, so just hunkered down, blocked the drafts I'd discovered that made my front hall into a wind tunnel, finished a couple of books, and kept taking pictures of a yardstick in the pile o' snow out my back door. Think the final tally was 28", windblown drifts higher. Shut down the region for days.

    Haven't had an accumulation like that since. Ice storms now and then, but we don't really get much snow here any more.

    Now watch, I just jinxed the whole region.

    Actually have several other Atlanta area snow stories from past years.

    Oh, and they're manufacturing snow over at Stone Mountain Park for their holiday festivities. Yeesh.

  42. I have to walk everywhere in this. Without crampons. Or whatever it is you call those things.

    Some spots, the sidewalk is a frictionless deathtrap.

  43. Hey, it's not like I wear glacier crampons everywhere, Scott - mostly because they tend to destroy hardwood floors :)

    But, seriously, here in my driveway it's glare ice uphill for a 100yds. I had to take a running start at it with the truck in 4WD just to get up drive. Standing on it? In 40MPH wind? Uh, no, not without serious spikes on. Frictionless deathtrap perfectly describes it.

    I'm about to go out and spread sand and rock salt. I'll run up and down it with the ATV first, that's got chains on which will rough up the ice, otherwise the wind will blow the sand and salt off before it does any good.

    Yeah, this is not my favorite type of Alaskan weather. Hope to hell it ends soon - on the other hand it does seem to have blown all the tourists away O.o


Comments on this blog are moderated. Each will be reviewed before being allowed to post. This may take a while. I don't allow personal attacks, trolling, or obnoxious stupidity. If you post anonymously and hide behind an IP blocker, I'm a lot more likely to consider you a troll. Be sure to read the commenting rules before you start typing. Really.