Okay, here goes... this page was done in 1999
Since I am in Fairbanks, I cannot really speak for the rest of Alaska, and I have seen enough of it, and hear enough about it from newspaper and television, to know that the weather, conditions, and situations vary a great deal. So, this trivia is (mostly) about the Fairbanks area, and is from observations I have made in the year or so that I have lived here.
Taken in January of 2000, this photo shows the city of Fairbanks shrouded in ice fog. Smokestacks of the local power plant, supplying steam for heat for the city rise above the ice fog in this photo. The photo appeared in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner newspaper. At the News Miner's web site you can look at photo archives for more local photos, and a web cam that will give you a current photo of downtown Fairbanks.
Last winter I believe the coldest day was -55 in the city of Fairbanks. There are interior areas where it was quite a bit colder, more than -60. The big thing last winter was the length of the deep cold. There were 17 days in a row in which the temps did not rise above 20 below, and quite a few of them were 40 below and colder. They came when the days were shortest, and they made the ice fog worse... they said it was a good initiation into winter here, because it was so cold. Me? I was just grateful that I had been wrong. I was just sure that a human could not breath outside if it was 40 below. Well, let me tell you, you can. But! You want to do it through a wool scarf. You do not want to expose your bare skin anywhere you do not have to. Since I smoke, I am forced to spend some time (about five minutes at a time) outdoors, no matter what the weather. Last winter I worked right downtown, and there are a lot of people in that area who do not drive vehicles in the winter at all. They walk everywhere.
Vehicles and Headbolts
Every business with employees, every home, has outside electrical outlets for vehicles to use in the winter. Large apartment buildings have at least one outlet per apartment, and most have two. In parking lots they are on metal standards between the rows of cars. Someone who emailed me recently from Wisconsin says they call them "hitchin' posts" for cars there. Some apartments and homes have "headbolt switches" where you turn a switch on inside your apartment to activate the current to your vehicle.
Fairbanks sits in a valley... the Tanana River valley. So it is prone to inversion layers. All that exhaust just sits there. During the day, if the sun shines and it is 20 below, more or less, you can see what look like iridescent crystals drifting through the air in all the colors of the rainbow. It is ice crystals--moisture. From people breathing, from exhaust. When enough of it collects, it creates ice fog. Because it is created from ice crystals, everything is reflected back at you, and it is very difficult to see anything at all. I have gone through all the fogs that California has to offer, and this is worse than any of them. Add swirling snow to the mix, and it makes for an un-fun day. Luckily, it doesn't last too long. It is better than California fog in that respect. It only forms through the very coldest part of winter.
The photo at right shows a cow moose and calf enjoy the clear Monday evening near the University of Alaska Fairbanks. (Photo by Eric Engman) Photo appeared in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner newspaper.
While my sourdough status is about as low as it gets, having a husband who has lived here for 27 years is a saving grace (I guess I can't be all bad if I married a REAL Alaskan!). I am joking about this, but to them it is not really a joking matter, and I can already understand why. Actually, my husband is not my saving grace. Last year was considered to be "real cold" and their next words always question whether I was here through last winter, and when I confirm it, they say "Well, you're not a cheechako, then. Last winter was real cold." And I know I have passed muster somehow. And, this does not seem to pertain to any one or several types of people, it seems to be everyone I have met.
That brings me to another bit of trivia. No one has ever come right out and said it, but it seems that the worst thing you can be here is a "wimp." This applies to both men and women, and must have come from the ruggedness of the land, and the harshness of the winter weather. Things have changed, of course, but unless you do not venture out of town, you still have to be prepared to deal with those things, even if you have modern comforts most of the time. And even in town you cannot escape the weather, and having to be out in it at times.
Long Days and
Although it did not come up until after I'd moved to Alaska, I found out that my mother thought that night descended on Alaska along about the end of summer, and daylight did not come again until spring or summer came again. I still don't think she believes me, because she is always so surprised when I say the sun is shining, or it is daylight.
What happens is this. I will start with right now, since that is where we happen to be. Right now our days are growing shorter. According to today's paper (Nov. 5, 1999), sunrise was at 8:51, sunset at 4:17, and we lost 6 minutes of daylight today. This trend will continue, with varying amounts of minutes lost each day (I have never seen it go above 7 or below 2) until about the 20th of December. That is the Winter Solstice, and at that point, the days reverse, and begin growing longer. They say that at no time do we ever have less than 4 hours of sunlight. By February, you can really see the difference in the length of the days, and by April, it never truly grows dark. In June we have our longest day, whenever we have the Vernal Equinox (I think that's what it's called), and then the days begin growing shorter again.
This photo by Matt Hage, above, which appeared in the Fairbanks Daily News Miner, shows the sunset over Chena Ridge in early November, 1999 after only 6 hours and 52 minutes of daylight. I saw this as I left work, and it was gorgeous.
The photo at right was taken in the first week of November 1999 by Matt Hage for the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. It shows the aurora dancing over Murphy's Dome that night.
Well, I think this page is definitely long enough. I have more I would like to write, but I will do a second page later. Right now I need to get on with other pages. Let me know if you like the trivia stuff...
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