It’s been almost a month since I last discussed the first true snowfall date (when the snow that falls stays on the ground for the entire winter) in Fairbanks, and we’re still without snow on the ground. It hasn’t been that cold yet, but the average temperature is enough below freezing that the local ponds have started freezing. Without snow, there’s a lot of ice skating going on around town. I’m hoping to head out this weekend and do some skating on the pond in the photo above. Still, most folks in Fairbanks are hoping for snow.
Since my last post, I’ve gotten access to data from the National Climate Data Center, and have been working on getting it all processed into a database. I’ve worked out a procedure for processing the daily COOP data, which means I can repeat my earlier snow depth analysis with a longer (and more consistent) data set. The following figure shows the same basic analysis as in my previous post, but now I’ve got data from 1948 to 2008.
The latest date for the first true snowfall was November 11th, 1962, and we’re almost three weeks away from that date. But we’re also on the right side of the distribution—the mean (and median) date is October 14th, and we’re 9 days past that with no significant snow in the forecast. I’ve also marked the earliest (September 13th, 1992) and latest (November 1st, 1997) first snowfall dates in recent history. 1992 was the year the snow fell while the leaves were still on the trees, causing major power outages and a lot of damage. I think 1997 was the year that we didn’t get much snow at all, which caused a lot of problems for water and septic lines buried in the ground. A deep snowpack provides a good insulating layer that keeps buried water lines from freezing and in 1997 a lot of things froze.
This is also the time of the year when some of the winter birds start making themselves less scarce. We saw our first Pine Grosbeaks of the year, three days later than last year’s first observation, a Northern Goshawk flew over a couple weeks ago, and we got some great views of this Great Horned Owl on Saturday. Andrea took some spectacular photos with her digital camera, and I experimented with my iPhone and the scope we bought in Homer this year. It’s quite a challenge to get the tiny iPhone lens properly oriented with the eyepiece image in the scope, but the photos are pretty impressive when you get it all set up. Even a pretty wimpy camera becomes powerful when looking through a nice scope.
Winter is on it’s way, just a bit late this year. I’ve been taking advantage by riding my bike to work fairly often. Earlier in the week I replaced my normal tires with carbide-studded tires, so I’ll be ready when the ice and snow finally comes.
Earlier Nika was out in the dog yard with Deuce, barking up a storm near the dog shed. It was starting to get dark, so I couldn’t really see what she was barking at. I wanted a beer anyway, so I got my boots on for a walk out to the red cabin. About a quarter of the way out there I heard a strange screeching noise. At first I thought maybe it was moose antlers rubbing on metal behind the dog shed, but when I looked where the sound came from I saw a great big bird in the birch tree behind the sheds. Raven? Then it turned it’s head, looked at me and started moving it’s head up and down, back and forth, probably trying to figure out what I was.
The photo is pretty bad, but it’s a great horned owl. Honest! The camera has an ISO adjustment feature, which might have helped a bit, but I didn’t want to mess around with the settings too much in case it flew away. I snapped a couple photos and then watched it through my binoculars. After a couple minutes of looking around, it saw something over by the red cabin and flew over there.
I’d heard great horned owls calling at our old house, and thought I heard one here a week ago, but seeing one so close to the house was a real treat.
Meanwhile, Piper wanted out to see what Nika had been barking at. When I came back in to listen to the Rockies game (the wheels seem to be coming off for the Diamondbacks), you can see her petition to go outside in the photo. She can be very cute.
A few days ago we had this little guy show up at the tree nearest to our house. The photo was taken by my wife, standing about four feet away from it. We've got a whole bunch of bird feeders all over the deck, and we think the owl was probably harvesting voles that come out to eat birdseed that makes it to the ground. We often see a flying squirrel occupying the same perch on that tree, but he's been absent for a few days now.
You can see larger versions of the photograph at my wife's Flickr page.