Thursday, March 7, 2013

Snow rollers, rare phenomenon when wind, precipitation, and temperature are just right

We drove to Portage from Girdwood today to visit a friend and see her place. It was snowing, yes, and there was a winter weather advisory, yes, but it was not windy in Girdwood. We thought we could get over there, it is only 10 miles away, and back before the storm became too strong. We all should know better, there is no second guessing the weather when mountains are involved. 

As we neared Portage, we could tell the wind was stronger. It was so fierce in Portage (Bear Valley) that this amazing snow phenomenon was being formed. Driving down the Portage Glacier road felt like semi-controlled hydro-planing and the water was making a more dull sound against the under carriage of the car than what I am used to hearing from rain. 

After our visit in Portage, we realized we needed to drive back to Glacier Valley before sunset as the visibility was decreasing in Portage. As the car made its way back to paved road, I noticed the road surface was textured, not just wet and not just snow. You might even think it looks like a choppy lake surface. These photos reveal what the car experienced on the way out of Portage Valley: snow rollers! 

Of course I did not identify this cold weather phenomenon until I returned home and did some research. I believe these are miniature versions of larger snow rollers that occur on mountain sides or in fields. Wind blows snow that may be sitting on a layer of ice or frost that the snow does not stick to thus ‘rolling’ up like a carpet or a cinnamon roll. There are loads of photos of large dry snow rollers on the internet. I believe the phenomenon I saw in Portage Valley could also be classified as snow rollers.

The conditions in Portage Valley the day these snow rollers were captured: snow mixed with rain, temperature ranging from 29° to 34°, wind blowing with gusts to 60 mph. There was a layer of ice and water on the roadway when the snow began. The rare combination of the wind at just the right speed as snow hit the ice or water on the level road enabled the snow to collect and move in little cylindrical shapes across the surface. 

You can see tire tracks in the surface of the precipitation for scale. I literally had to hold on to the car to capture these photos. Gusts of wind were so strong I could have been blown over. Although I did not measure these little cylinders, I estimate them to have been 15 - 25 mm in diameter. If you look closely, you can see little caps on some rollers, like little waves, where the wind is moving the snow forward to roll again. 

After seeing these little slush rolls, I could understand why the sound on the under carriage of the car was deeper than rain would have been. What a cool learning experience and a testament to the effects of mountains on weather. The wind was channeled in just the right way through Portage yet not the same in Glacier Valley. Cool.

Spring temperatures bring rain to the base in Girdwood

The blue bird spring days of this week have faded into grey rainy days here in Girdwood. The temperature this morning at the T is 34° with rain. Snow if falling at the top of chair 6, some consolation for those top of the mountain riders who have been experience tracked out snow. It appears Glacier Valley and western Prince William Sound will continue to leap into spring with rain and snow mixing for the next couple of days. Backcountry excursions may be a nice side trip this weekend. 

This weekend, March 8 and 9 is the Alaska Botanical Garden Spring Conference. The opening meeting and dinner is Friday night at the Millennium Alaskan Hotel. Gary Paul Nabhan will be speaking, his topic "Traditional Foods at Risk in Salmon Nations: Threatened Wild and Cultivated Plants." I am sure he will probably have his book by the same name available for sale. Mr. Nabhan is a world-reknown author and food activist. His teachings should be welcomed as appropriate to a region such as Alaska that is poised for potential over harvest. Alaska and has also experienced and could experience future environmental catastrophes. However, by learning from other regions' experiences and understanding the interconnections of environmental processes, we can plan wisely for our future food sustainability in Alaska. I look forward to learning from Mr. Nabhan's experience. 

Sunday March 10 is spring forward day, remember to adjust your clocks before heading to sleep Saturday. 

If you are venturing to Girdwood today or tomorrow, wear your rain slicker!

Monday, March 4, 2013

Alaska Botanical Garden Spring Conference this Friday and Saturday

The atmosphere was quite strange in Glacier Valley today. It was not fully blue bird day although there was lots of blue sky to be seen. Yet it was not really cloudy either, as the image above displays. The high pressure to the north east is holding off the low that is approaching from the west. I feel like Girdwood is in the calm between the two extremes of weather. The temperature in Girdwood was very warm, nearly 40° today. Everyone who was skiing said they were hot when they came in for lunch. Wow! It really is spring, it really is  March! 

Alaska Botanical Garden Spring Conference this Friday and Saturday, March 8-9!

This coming weekend is the Alaska Botanical Garden’s Spring Conference. The keynote speaker is author and food activist and Gary Paul Nabhan. Mr. Nabhan will be speaking Friday night between 6:30 and 8:30 at the Alaska Botanical Garden’s Annual Spring Garden Conference at the Millennium Alaskan Hotel. Visit the Botanical Garden’s website for schedule and registration information. 

Mr. Nabhan has written and co-authored many influential books relating to food sustainability, local and native food use, pollination, and farming. These include: Where Our Food Comes From; Renewing Salmon Nation’s Food Traditions; The Forgotten Pollinators co-authored with Stephen Buchmann; and many more. If you are not familiar with his work, visit Gary Paul Nabhan’s website

Though Mr. Nabhan is from Arizona, his teachings are appropriate to many locations. This is especially true for us in Alaska, we are similar to Arizona because Alaska has limited terrains with the appropriate climate for common crop production. There are not a wide variety of pollinators in Alaska which also places challenges on food producers. Additionally, Alaska tends to place high demands on food from the marine environment, on animal life that is. Perhaps Mr. Nabhan will put a new bug in our ears such as broadening our palates to utilize marine plants to supplement our food needs. Any sustainable local resource we can take advantage of in Alaska will lessen our dependence on shipping. Shipping food products over long miles, wether by truck, plane or boat, uses fuel that we could be apply higher purposes.

I encourage anyone interested in changing the way you think about food production to attend. There are a variety of presenters covering not only native plants and gardening, but beekeeping and chicken roosting! We can all be a part of sustainability, in our own ways, even if just a little bit over time. 

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Clear roads and light traffic on the ski runs too!

It was a regular middle of the road day in Girdwood, 34° at the T, tiny frozen precipitation this morning, spotty sun, and a brief rain around 4 pm. Not too exciting but not too bad either. Those who came to ski had crowd free slopes again today due to most outdoor enthusiasts watching the Iditarod. Yea dog teams, let’s wish them all safe travels across western Alaska. 

The grey clouds were moving in with the intent of settling early in the evening. There is a low pressure system over southwest Alaska over the Aleutians and another low system west over the Bering moving this way. They will kick up some moisture as the rotations develop counterclockwise. That moisture should grace Glacier Valley and the surrounding mountains with lots of fresh snow.