Tuesday, April 8, 2014

An Abnormally Warm Winter

The lack of snow changed the moose patterns this winter. Here, a moose below the Islands and Ocean Visitor's Center.

This has been the winter that I’ve joked many times to family in the Lower 48, “Come to Homer, it’s warmer here!” While the Midwest and East Coast have been hit with record-breaking cold temperatures and snow, Alaska has been downright balmy. When Aurora was in Barrow in January, it was in the 20’s. We went through weeks mid-winter when the temperatures did not dip below 32 and were as warm as the 50’s. Cross-country skiing was sporadic, and though we had “enough” snow, it often wasn’t good quality. And the Homer Rope Tow was only open 3 weeks of the entire season. One person I know never harvested their kale. They threw a tarp over it and whenever they wanted some they would go out to the garden, peel back the tarp and snip some off. That was in February!

This was the year for cancelling ski races, and even the ones that happened were only by serendipity it seemed. The high school race the first weekend of December was the first to succumb to the lack of snow, and there was nowhere that could have hosted it as there wasn’t snow anywhere. The middle school was to host the first race of the season the end of January but the only place anyone was skiing on the Kenai Peninsula was Soldotna, which runs about 15 degrees colder than Homer most of the winter (warmer in the summer) so they hosted it. When it was time for the Besh Cups races in January, the days were an insane brew of snowstorm and clear, sunny sky, with rain predicted. We managed to pull of the middle school boroughs ski race on Sunset Loop and the snow was going-going and almost gone, but then it snowed, just enough. The Homer Ski Marathon the first weekend of March was cancelled. The next week the Homer Epic, 50 or 100 kilometers out East End Road, was held amid one of our bigger snowstorms of the year. Two weeks later the ski leg of the Sea to Ski was pulled off with a bit of snow shoveling.

This weekend traveling through Turnagain Pass on the way to Anchorage, I was impressed at how little snow there was, at a time that the snowbanks are usually well over the height of a car still. At Alyeska the parking lot was still nearly full, yet the kids said it didn’t feel very busy. They stayed at the top of the mountain so when it was pouring at the bottom they were up in the snow. In Girdwood the bike paths were mostly clear besides a few spots in the shade, again, very unusual for this time of year when the snow would normally be at least 2-4 feet deep at the base.

The biggest difference I noticed this winter was the change in moose patterns. Normally we have a moose trail through our yard all winter, with them veering around the front of the house and then along the side and into the gully. We have had up to 6 moose bedded down in our yard at a time, and oftentimes I would have to scare the moose away or wait till they left in order to get from my cabin on the property to the house. At this time of year I would look down at the front yard and see lots of piles of moose droppings. Moose droppings in our yard this year: none. I think I went 4 months without seeing a single moose. Suddenly 3 weeks ago we started seeing moose all over our neighborhood and town. There would be tracks in the yard in the morning, mama moose and junior bedded down by our spruce trees, or a moose hanging out on the road as we went for a walk. I've missed having the moose around even if they are a little pesky at times.

Part of me found it terrible to have so little snow, while part of me was so thrilled to have clear roads much of the winter! The lack of ice was delightful.

When I lived in Michigan I loved the winters with lots of endless snow, but with all the traveling we do now plus 2 teenage drivers in the house as well as the extreme ice we get in Homer, I was glad for the reprieve!


Mornings322 said...

Great read. As I read I try to picture myself there. Love the wildlife but I read where moose are dangerous. Enjoy the weather!

Michelle Waclawski said...

Moose can be dangerous. We respect them, give them wide berth when we can and we don't try to get in close for photo shoots with them! "Reading" moose is one of the skills we have learned in Alaska!