Friday, February 13, 2009

Waiting for a Volcano to Blow

If you've been following the news, you know that just across Cook Inlet from us, Mt. Redoubt has been experiencing "elevated seismicity, dominated by ongoing volcanic tremor and occasional small earthquakes," and it is expected to erupt sometime soon. We've been waiting. And waiting. And waiting. While the "edge" that we all feel living next door to an active volcano has worn off slightly (it's hard to maintain vigilance for long), our lives have been tweaked in a few ways.

  • Volcano watching. I keep the Redoubt volcano watch home page up on my computer all the time ( and at least a handful of times a day I pop over, refresh the page and check out the latest level of seismicity and webcams. While the ash trajectories are of primary importance when Redoubt does blow, until then, I hardly notice them. I also find myself going to the earthquake watch page ( at least once a day to see how many earthquakes have occurred in Alaska in the past few days. There are usually 85-120 quakes listed for the past couple days, and there is always at least one quake shown in red for the past hour.
  • Masks & nylons. We have dust masks in our cars and at home, so pretty much wherever we are, we'll have that essential covered. I also pulled some nylons out of my drawer and stashed them in the car. Apparently we put them over a filter and it protects the engine from being trashed by the volcanic ash.
  • Emergency plans. Most businesses, schools and other public places have eruption plans. Some will definitely close if there is an eruption, while others will wait and see how much ash is exploded and what direction the wind is blowing. A significant factor is when it happens. The big eruption of '89 was in the middle of the night, which creates a completely different scenerio than in the middle of the day, or as people are on their way home from work.
  • Wrap up. Each night we wrap up our computers and I put all my electronic equipment in ziplock baggies. We also keep our VCR and a spattering of other delicate electronics wrapped up, and I've bagged up or put away other items in the house that I don't want to have to clean if we have significant dust in the house (or that I don't want to fall and break if we have a big earthquake).
  • Caulk. During the 5.73 quake we had last month, the house we live in shifted and we started getting breezes coming in. I caulked the seams in the house at the breeze points. I should have done that to keep the cold out, but I'm much more motivated to keep out the ash than the cold!
  • Keep an eye on the sky. I always keep an eye on the weather, but now I am more vigilant about noticing the weather/cloud cover to the west. I pay attention to what direction the wind is blowing, predicting whether we'd be in line for minor ashfall or major ashfall. Strange cloud formations get my attention and I study them rather than just glancing at them.
The first couple weeks after Redoubt was elevated to level Orange and Watch, I was edgy and tense. Now I just want it to blow and get it over with so we can stop waiting! Of course, this reminds me of a key factor: geological time. It is very different from human time, and it's not always predictible. Now I laughingly say that Redoubt is going to blow when we're not expecting it. But until it does, we're keeping our masks with us!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Ohlson Mountain--Local Ski Slope

Aurora got a new snowboard recently, so we finally decided to check out the local ski slope: Ohlson Mountain. We were very glad a friend was our guide to the place, since there is no sign announcing the place. The only clues are a plowed widening in the road and a packed trail leading off the road between two private residences. Once you get up the trail a ways you see the sign you see here: Rope Tow ----> We must be on the right track, but the packed trail leads all the way to the bottom of the hill, past a shack (which I found out is the warming hut) to the bottom of the tow rope where an attendant takes people's lift ticket money. It is all so casual and small-townish that I was a bit startled, yet it is a great place for kids learning to ski or ride to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Ohlson Mountain is run by volunteers with the Kachemak Bay Ski Club. Lift tickets are $125 for a season pass for the whole family, or $5/day for students, $10/day for adults, or $20/day for families. What you see on the picture here is the whole mountain. It doesn't get crowded, and there's not a lot of pressure--it's just a fun place to hang out. The tow rope does, literally, zoom you up the mountain. I was startled when we first walked up and I saw people cruising UP the mountain. I didn't realize tow ropes went quite that fast! It was a bit tricky and took Aurora numerous tries to get the hang of it. On top of that, the rope can rip your gloves up, so they have a box of leather workgloves in the warming hut to wear to protect your nice gloves.

The warming hut is, well, it is just a shack, but it does the job and it is full of small town ambiance! It is heated with a wood stove, so whoever is in there just keeps the fire going. There are some board games to while away the time while warming up, and picnic tables that have been around the block a few times, but do the job. It is all one really needs.

The biggest bummer of this place is that there are no rentals, so you have to own your own equipment (or borrow from a friend) to go here. Plenty of people in Homer make the 3-4 hour drive up to Alyeska for a day or weekend, but this is a local option that plenty of people are grateful for--my new 'boarding daughter is one of them!