My primary impression of winters in Sitka is not so much shaped by cold temperatures or the amount of snow that falls, but rather what happens in the days after it snows. When a high pressure from the Yukon pushes over Southeast Alaska, we can get a period of days to even a couple weeks of temperatures down into the 20s and teens. As the high pressure weakens together with a low moving in from the Gulf of Alaska, it’s not unusual to get a day or two where snow falls before it warms enough to become rain. All too often, it seems like the temperatures rise to only just above freezing and remain there for several days. It’s also not unusual for there to be wind and decent amounts of rainfall as well. Today was a day like that.
Late last night I noticed the snow in the backyard seemed exceptionally bright, so I stepped out on to the front porch to have a look. High in the sky towards the south, I could see the practically full moon shining through a thin layer of clouds. This break in the heavy cloud cover allowed the ground to cool off dramatically – something it did not need that much help with considering all the snow, slush, and ice that was already there. By the time the sun was rising, heavy clouds were back, and it had started to rain. Over 3/4 of an inch fell throughout the day, and with snow and ice effectively blocking drainage down and over the surface, pools of standing water formed. Where foot or vehicle traffic had been adequate to compact the snow, but not enough to wear it completely away, this resulted in a layer of water over a sheet of ice. These treacherous conditions are one of the hallmarks of a Sitka winter, for me.
My memories of winter are probably shaped in no small part by the 4+ years I spent walking my paper route five days a week delivering the Sitka Sentinel. The physical difficulty and discomfort of walking along the icy and slushy sidewalks and side roads (or getting sprayed by slush churned up by passing motorists on the main roads) in cold rainy and dark conditions probably makes these times stand out more to me than they might for others. I don’t really remember how I felt about it at the time, but these days I do not mind it too much. It can be a little annoying when I catch an especially slippery spot of ice and land on my butt in a puddle of ice water, but fortunately that does not happen too often. It can even be fun to sort of skate along the lumpy sidewalk ice like I did a bit this afternoon.
I only got outside briefly today. I decided to take a short walk over to the new house to see what progress they had made since yesterday. Around the house through the course of the day I noticed the usual suspects calling – even heard some Varied Thrushes through the windows this morning. Connor and Rowan were excited by Pine Siskins visiting the feeders they had set up. They tried, but were unable to get any video, however. They got the camera a couple of times, but it seems as though the siskins would spook and fly off before they were able to record anything.