Saturday, July 6, 2013

Perspectives on Alaskan Weather, Climate, and Culture

A trip to southeast Alaska should be a high priority for any Wasatch Weather Weenie.  I'm presenting some commentary and photos from our recent trip below, perhaps enough to induce boredom, but if your synapses aren't stimulated along the inland passage, you lack creativity and imagination.  Further, as Zimmerman shows below, scientists view vacations in a somewhat unique fashion.

Source: Zimmerman
We begin in Juneau, where one is immediately blown away by the Mendenhall Glacier (commentary on the image below courtesy of my son).

The common refrain we heard from locals is that they can't believe how much the glacier has receded in their lifetimes.  If this retreat were isolated, it might be an indicator of local climate variability, but it is consistent with what most (but not all) glaciers are doing around the world (there are a couple of glaciers in Alaska advancing, including the Taku near Juneau).  The visitor's center provides some educational displays discussing global warming, but unfortunately they totally whiff in regards to scientific accuracy.  How would you answer this question (hint: as in the Matthew Broderick film War Games, the only way to win is not to play)?

In terms of the diversity of potential natural disasters, Juneau has to be near the top of the list.  Earthquakes, tsunamis, landslides, seiches, downslope winds, avalanches, you name it.  With no provocation, my son looked at Mount Juneau and commented that it was one of the scariest places he ever saw.  He then sent this photo to some friends.  If you are interested, a history of Juneau avalanches is available here.

A major change that I have noticed since first visiting southeast Alaska about 20 years ago is that weather forecasting is no longer viewed as a joke.  Alaskans recognize that although forecasts remain imperfect, they have advanced to the point that they should be taken seriously.  Efforts by the National Weather Service forecast office in Juneau were front page news while we were there.

Of course, Juneau is home to some great and adventurous skiers.  Eagle Crest (top photo below) is the home mountain of Olympic Silver Medalist Hillary Lindh.  An approach to the ski area offers the opportunity to worship at a ski shrine.  Remarkably, the skis at the shrine are still mounted, so a return visit might be needed to do some demoing.

Alaska is noted for highly variable weather, so it is important to hit the T-shirt shops to catch the latest forecast.

Indeed, given that it rains over 150 inches a year in portions of southeast Alaska, it is quite fortunate that we enjoyed beautiful sunsets in both Sitka and Ketchikan.  

Lucky?  Perhaps, but I've been to southeast Alaska when it's blowin' and rainin' and you feel like you are living in a permanent carwash, so I've paid my dues.  

1 comment:

  1. This post made me and my wife laugh. Thanks.