Monday, April 20, 2009

Spring has Sprung and Other Reflections

Ashfall cleanup continues in Homer, with larger businesses such as Safeway and the college bringing in water trucks, pressure sprayers and sweepers to remove ash from parking lots, while small businesses get out the garden hoses and brooms to whisk away the ash. "Please wipe your feet" signs are more common than mud right now on shop entries.

Meanwhile, Mt. Redoubt continues to steam away day and night, with a lava dome building. I was in Anchor Point today for my daughter's basketball game and got to see Redoubt clearly. Redoubt is not visible from Homer, so we have to drive up the Sterling Highway a ways to gaze at it! We're losing our hypervigilance and are a little calmer now that the ash has come goes on!

Snow is melting at a fantastic rate. So quickly, in fact, that it overflowed the road near our house creating a nice waterfall, pictured in this video. Unlike the Lower 48, where things keep on getting warmer and warmer, we know that a warm spring day may be about as warm as many summer days will be. Fifty degrees is tanning weather! Get out the bikinis! Who needs Hawaii?!

Monday, April 6, 2009

More Ashfall Reflections

Driving into Homer today, I was on the lookout to see just how much ash they got and what the "hit hard" that some people had said was like. I my nose started itching before I was visibly able to see the ash. There is very little snow past Fritz Creek (mile 8 of East End Road) heading into town, so it already looked like a typical dreary, gray spring day. At about mile 3 of EE Road my nose began to itch and I could see what looked like it might be ash on the side of the road. The more I looked (and the further into Homer I got) the more I saw. Where snowpiles in parking lots were melting, a sludge of ash was created. As cars drove down the road clouds of dust? ash? billowed up behind them. Thirty minutes in town and my throat was sore. A few people were wearing masks, but not many. It wasn't something I could smell or feel, but looking closely I could see the signs, and when walking it was even more obvious (and distasteful, and I'm not a particularly finicky person).

ATM's at banks have gone on the blink because of blowing ash and have been shut down, my hearing aids have been behaving erratically in the past few days (they are "delicate electronic equipment!"), I feel grit on my computer keyboard too often (and that is without ashfall here), cars that were dirty before are even dirtier now. People swap stories about "cleaning up" and "how bad was it at your place?" Aaaaaahhhh....nothing like being an Alaskan right now!!

Up where we're at the snow is melting in the warm spring sunshine and the "old ash" from a week or so ago is being exposed again in strange patches like in the photo above. I keep wanting to ski, ache to ski, but it's just not appealing to ski on ash. I've taken up running again, and I'm thinking this is a good summer not to be in Alaska! Normally I relish the clear, untainted air of sea and mountains, but from what I hear, when the snow melts the ash is blowing all over the place. Someone jokingly told me today that the air quality issues we now have remind him of Los Angeles! I'm shaking my head, but not laughing. Of course, this is "natural causes," and who is going to get angry with the Earth for being "earth"?!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

OK, fine, another eruption!

I woke up this morning, looked out the window to see this dark "cloud" moving our way and dashed to the computer to check the AVO website, sure that that dark cloud to the west was ash and not cloud. Sure enough: Redoubt had erupted again and it was blowing our way; no ducking it this time. I ran outside, put the car under the lean-to, ran back in, unplugged and wrapped up the computers and electronics, then waited for the ash to hit. The phone kept ringing, with coaches announcing that all of my daughter's basketball events were cancelled for the day.

The ashfall advisory was till 10 am. At about 10:30 the dark clouds had moved closer but had lightened. The advisory was extended until noon, but I was convinced that we were going to be missed! I could see the darkness heading over Kachemak Bay to the Kenai Mountains, but it wasn't getting any nearer to us. At noon we decided to drive up the road to McNeil Canyon School and go skiing--or at least check the conditions. At McNeil, when we looked very closely at the snow we could see a bit of ash (individual specks), but decided it wasn't bad enough to keep us from our ski. We did a loop, and I shook my head in consternation because on the way back our tracks from 20 minutes before had a dusting of ash collecting in them. The wind was blowing from the north (not the direction of Redoubt), so I wasn't expecting ash to be blowing, and we certainly couldn't smell it or feel it, but it was there.

Our friends who live 5 miles up East End Road got a good coating, and apparently Homer got hit pretty bad, while 15 miles up the Sterling Highway to the north, Anchor Point got a half inch of ash. Right now: the kids just came in from playing outside and it is a beautiful sunny day. One would never know Redoubt just blew from looking out the window. You can bet that I'm counting my blessings today. Now I just hope my hubby makes it back from Anchorage. That's a lot of ash to drive through!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Fallout from an Eruption

Yesterday as my daughter and I were about to head out the door to go running I commented, "Oh, it's snowing." She looked at me with a question in her eyes: "Are you sure?" An hour later I made the same comment and my husband said, "Are you sure it's not ash?" That is what having a volcano in our backyard has done to us: we question whether snow is really snow--at least when it is a light snow like when we had our ashfall last week.

Other fallout:
Dirty cars: the first few days after the ashfall here in Homer every car in sight was dirty, covered with ash. The one local car wash has had an incredible spurt of business as people gradually get over there and get the ash washed off their vehicles. Because the ash is so hard and abrasive (unlike wood ash), it is not recommended that one use a brush; it might scratch the finish or even the windshield. The power sprayer comes in handy for this. Our cars are still so filthy I wouldn't even want to put a picture of them up.

Dirty snow: You know what dirty snow along the edge of the road in the springtime looks like, right? Well, the snow was like that everywhere! Big yuck! Then it finally snowed and covered it up, but now it is melting and exposing the dirty layer again! As much as I love snow, I cannot say how much I want it to melt away so I don't have so much dirty snow around! Of course, it's April 3 and I know the snow will stick to about mid-May unless something bizarre happens. This is all at elevation, where we are; in Homer there is virtually no snow so it already looks like drab spring there, and the ash blows around worse there as well.

Fun stuff cancelled: This past weekend I was supposed to be the skier on a team in the Sea to Ski race (5k run, 7k bike, 5k ski), but it was canceled due to snow conditions (who wants to rip up their impeccably waxed skis??) and health concerns (breathing ash-y air). It ended up being a blustery day and the ash was blowing some, so it was a good call, but still disappointing. Our local ski/boarding slope, Ohlson Mountain, was closed that day for similar reasons, which bummed out my daughter. With the few inches of new snow earlier in the week, the groomers finally got out and groomed the ski trails, but I'm still a little leery. When I snowshoed a few days ago every step broke through the new snow into the ash layer, so looking back on our trail was like looking at a line of dark snow.

Now we're back in watching mode. There have been 18 eruptions so far in the past 2 weeks (it seems like much longer than that), and the volcanic activity at Redoubt is ongoing. Supposedly the radar shows a haze of volcanic ash in the atmosphere over the Kenai Peninsula, Anchorage Bowl and Mat-Su Valley. My throat has been sore for the past couple days without any other symptoms, so it makes me wonder what I'm breathing.

When we travel or head into town, we check the AVO website first to see if there has been a recent eruption and which way the wind is blowing (no guarantees that there will be an ashfall even if it is blowing our way). And my "mom" question as my family walks out the door is: "Do you have a mask?"