Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Weather Wild

Okay, I actually do know that this is Alaska and I should expect weather extremes. That doesn't keep me from remarking on it from time to time; even we (who are used to it) find it dramatic at times.

This is a la nina year, which I was cheerfully told by a client would mean a colder-than-usual winter. I immediately cursed him roundly and then threatened him with bodily harm if he was right, but strangely, that has not changed things for me. It HAS been colder than usual, and that's not the extent of it.

For one thing, the weather predictors seem to have taken la nina as licence to lie to us more than usual. Okay, I know they aren't really lying; they're guessing. But they'll blithely promise us a 10-degree jump in temperature, with clouds and snow, and what we get is crystal clear skies and a 5 degree DROP in temperature. It's hard not to be annoyed by that, especially if your starting point is subzero.

For another thing, we had some wicked strong winds this winter. It started when I was at work one day; the temperature had come up, according to the thermometer at the clinic. However, the wind came up along with it, dropping the effective temperature. By evening, when I was getting ready to leave work, it was a challenge to open the back door at the clinic, and should you be so foolish to be coming in that door, you had to watch carefully that the wind didn't slam the door on your ankle hard enough to break it.

Well. THAT'S fun.

Even more fun was the fact that we'd had a recent snow, and all of it was now blowing southwest at a high rate of speed. There is, of course, the bright side: just walking to the truck, I got free dermabrasion from tiny sand-like grains of ice and road grit.

Mmmm. That's refreshing.

Moreover, once you stagger blindly across the parking lot and find your truck (mainly by feel, since you can't really open your eyes wider than miserly slits), you get to try to open the truck door. Since the truck is parked nose-on into the wind, this will require at least three tries, since on the first two the wind will snatch the door out of your rapidly-numbing hands and slam it shut again. The windshield will be hazy with airborne grit, but the truck will start faithfully.

Now comes the entertaining drive home. There will be a ground blizzard of epic proportions. This is disorienting to drive in for several reasons: First, you can't see the road itself, nor any lane lines or other markings. This is in part because it's dark out, and in part because the curtain of blowing snow is inches thick and not punctuated by much in the way of lulls or gaps. Second, as you squint at the river of snow flowing across the road, your eye wants to follow the motion, which makes it challenging not to let your wheel go with it. This effect is enhanced by the fact that the snow isn't crossing the road perpendicularly, but at something of an angle, making it harder to sort out visually where you are supposed to be aiming your vehicle. And last but not least, you're fighting the buffeting of the gale the entire time, trying to steer a straight course against the blustering tug of the wind on your rig, and through the shifting veil of snow concealing the road from your eye.

Eventually, however, you will arrive home, only to discover that, while the winds are lower at home, the ambient temp is also lower, which makes your truck sad. On the plus side, there's little drifting to contend with, and the winds are forecast to die down overnight.

As it turns out, those weather people lied about that. AGAIN.

In the morning the winds have picked up. Luckily it's a day off, so I can wait til daylight to go out and fight my way back into town (which I might not do if not for the fact that I have to return our on-call cell phone to the clinic). I warm up the truck, back down my hill, sashay my truck forward through the lightly-drifted part of my lower driveway, and pause to check for traffic before I pull out.

Oh, goodie. There are huge drifts across the road now. Yay. Not.

Sighing, I check that the hubs are locked and I pull out, gunning it to ramming speed. I break through the first drift, fishtailing in the deeper snow. Ten feet farther on I hit the second, and largest, drift. The truck shudders, hesitates, bogging down in the snow. The tires are struggling for purchase on the road, but the snow is too deep to allow it. But she's a good little truck and she digs in, slewing and yawing, and powers her way through. After that the last drift is a piece of cake, and we are on our way.

The wind is still grabbing at the truck, bullying it toward the shoulder. I keep two hands on the wheel and fight back. Luckily, the majority of snow available to blow has already blown wherever it's going to, and the visibility is decent. Not as luckily, there's still plenty of road grit.

Overhead, ravens are flying, as if nothing unusual is happening. Crazy Alaskan ravens.

On the way to work, I see a pickup bed topper turtled up in the ditch. Hmm. That's interesting. The wind tore a topper right off a truck, it seems. Even more interesting, further on, there is an entire camper - the kind that fits in a truck bed, with a sleeping compartment that rests on top of the cab - is sitting next to an intersection. It is upright, as if Dorothy's tornado came and plucked it off a truck and set it down complete, right next to the light post. Maybe we're not in Kansas anymore.

I looked to see if there were ruby slippers poking out from underneath, but I didn't see any.

I did, however, see a large piece of panelling flapping heavily against the storefront from which it has been half-torn free, and two street signs whose poles have been bent far enough over that the sign is swaying at knee-height in the verge of the road.

Last but not least, I see an entire 18-wheeler on its side in the ditch. It looks like this happened some hours ago - the site is abandoned, no Troopers or rescue personnel nearby - and the trailer is twisted at an awkward angle to the cab. I hope nobody was hurt.

Eventually I make the clinic, where the wind snatches my door open and tries (but fails) to rip it off its hinges. I stagger across wind-polished ice to the clinic, make it inside without having my ankle bear-trapped in the door, return the cell and catch my breath for a few minutes before braving the wind again.

Repeat for two more days.

Oh, well. It made a break from the cold, anyway. Unfortunately the cold returned thereafter, defying all predictions from the weather guessers that it was going to warm up tomorrow, warm up TOMORROW, I say, HEY! WARM UP!

No? Okay then. Who can I bribe?

I can't complain today. It came up 16 degrees overnight (to a balmy 12 degrees), and it is snowing: Big, light, fluffy crystalline flakes, beautiful to behold. On the road, not as beautiful, because it's snowing to white-out conditions and accumulating fast enough to glaze the roads. Luckily the snow plows are out plowing and sanding, and closer in to town, away from the influence of the Cook Inlet, the snow is lighter and not sticking. And now, drinking tea at the coffee shop and blogging, the sun is shining slantwise below the cloud cover and turning the thinning flakes to diamonds floating on the air. Rifts of blue are showing through the clouds - which is pretty, but probably means the temp will drop again.

Still and all, the light is coming back, which up here is the harbinger of winter's end. The brain defect I have - which calls the end of winter earlier and earlier every year - is fully operational, asserting to me that winter is practically over, all we have to do is January and then it's done, it's only a month more to go, and it could be worse: it could be raining.

Oh. Um... I didn't just curse myself, did I...?


Melanie said...

I hope you cursed it! Raining is better than 20 Below

Holly said...

ugh, I am so tired of winter.

remind me again why I live in the snow belt?

MaskedMan said...

But rain on frozen ground means a thick coat of ice, with flowing water atop; Never my favored road conditions.

After our recent Nor'Easter, we had some nice ground blizard conditions. My wife's vehicle is a nice little SUV, but I don't joke when I say 'little.' Designed for desert and sand four-wheelin', meaning tall and [i]light[/i]. Put that in high, gusty winds (62mph, clocked), and you'd better have an active grip on the wheel. Add in swirling curtains of wind-driven snow, and it was a bit of a challenge. Jenn made me drive. :-p

AKDD said...

@ Holly: I like snow. It's the wind I don't love so much. However: the year has already turned. light is coming back. Even in AK it's nearly spring (well, *I* think it is, anyway, but I will freely admmit I may be slightly insane.) February first is pretty much where my brain calls spring - unless it's earlier this year... :p

@ MM: yeah, that kind of thing sucks... unless it rains enough to melt off the underlying ice. That has actually happened up here (if it does, it's nearly always in January for some reason, which means the roads are often just fine, after a day or two, but my yard will be a disaster area of epic proportions.)

Dragon43 said...

Well, you seem to be having a lot of fun. Bawahahaha

I love the wind but I am a sailor at heart.

Need to tell the story of my sail from Norfolk to St. Martin November of 91.

Wow, 19 years ago. Seems like yesterday.

Is that a sign of old age?

No, you don't have to answer that.