Winter Weather

There are two primary winter weather patterns that we see in Sitka. When high pressure builds over Canada, it will sometimes spill out over the coast mountains and push into the Gulf of Alaska. Winds are typically out of the North, bringing with them colder temperatures and crystal clear skies, with snow-covered mountains brilliant in the sunlight. Such days can be uncomfortably cold (especially for Southeastern residents not used to temperatures much below freezing) – but even accompanied by the cold during the short days and long nights of winter, in a place with so many overcast days the sunlight is welcome.

The other primary pattern is associated with low pressure systems moving across the North Pacific. Filled with moisture picked up from the relatively warm (for this time of year) oceans, some systems pull up warmer air and additional moisture and from near Hawaii (the so-called “Pineapple Express”) resulting in warmer temperatures and rain, while others manage to pull in some cooler air from the north and temperatures stay near freezing with snow a distinct possibility. These low pressure systems often bring thick cloud cover, and combined with the low angle of the sun and typical lack of snow, days can go by without the level of brightness climbing above gloomy dusk. For people who experience mood troubles in winter around here, I suspect these days of gloom have as much to do with it as the overall shortness of daylight hours.

Yesterday provided a nice contrast between these two patterns. Much of the day skies were mostly clear and sunshine brightened things up. By the time I headed out to take care of some grading at UAS, low clouds had started to move in but I could still see sunlight reflected off the Sisters. Shortly thereafter, the unnamed peak behind the Sisters was still in sunlight, but the Sisters themselves were no longer bright. I hurried down to Crescent Harbor, knowing I would have a less obstructed view of the mountains, and the contrast I found there struck me.

Looking back toward the high point on the island (see photo at top of this entry) – looking back at the mountains, it’s easy to imagine the sun has just dropped below the horizon from the perspective at sea level, with the last rays illuminating the snow covered peaks before the sunlight fades and the stars can be seen again.

Turning around and looking toward the ocean, it’s a different story. Heavy gray clouds filter the sunlight to the point where it seems as though the sun had already set, though that would not happen for another 20 minutes or more. Light snow consisting of small flakes reduces visibility even further but without the excitement that can come with large fluffy flakes drifting lazily down from the sky.

I found the contrast of moods between the two directions striking, and while I don’t actually mind the gloomy winter weather, I couldn’t help but find myself imagining being up on the sunlit peaks above the clouds, basking in the brightness, even if it wasn’t accompanied by much warmth.

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