We got our first real snowfall last night, about two inches at our place. It probably won’t last (the second week in October is normally when we get the snow that stays until April), but it means the roads will be dangerous for the next couple days or weeks. Last week we saw our first great horned owl of the fall, and the snowshoe hares are rapidly turning white so winter is just about here. We’re hoping for a bunch of early season snowfall this year to get the trails set up for skiing and mushing.
What’s cool about the first snowfall of the year, especially when it’s a lot of snow like last night, is how totally different the world looks. You go to bed and it’s painted in yellows and browns, but when you wake up, it’s all cleaned up in black and white and blue. I know it’ll melt, probably later today and turn brown again, but as the sun comes up on the new wintry world, it feels fresh.
I finished wiring the shed yesterday afternoon. I was surprised at how long it took, but since everything is connected in series, each connection has to be perfect or nothing down the line will work. I’ve lived in enough cabins with funky wiring to know that it’s better to do it right the first time. The shed now has an outlet on each wall, an outdoor GFCI outlet on the outside of the building, a pair of lights in the ceiling, and an outdoor motion-detecting floodlight (that’s what’s lighting the photo on the right). The lights are wired to a switch next to the door. All that’s left is to clean up the inside and build what we need to store stuff in there. We’d planned on painting the floor, but I think it’s too late in the year for that now.
We’ve had four days of nearly constant, heavy rain here in Fairbanks, and the levels of the Interior rivers and streams have come very close to the levels they reached in the Flood of ‘67. So we’re currently experiencing a 30-year flood event. The Tanana, Salcha, Chena and Nenana Rivers have all reached flood stages and many residents in low lying areas near these rivers have been evacuated. The photo on the right, taken by the National Weather Service, shows some of the flooding in the Rosie Creek area. Most of the larger rivers in town are six or seven feet above their normal summer levels.
The following plot shows the hourly and cumulative precipitation from the Small Arms Range (SRGA2) weather station over the past four days. Just under three inches of rain in four days doesn’t sound like a lot when you're from other parts of the country, but Fairbanks gets an average of less than two inches a month in July and August, and our total annual precipitation (including snow) is only 10.87 inches of water. Much of the lower elevation and north-facing areas in the Tanana Valley are permanently frozen and this permafrost is quickly saturated with water. That’s why the region is so lush and green in the summer, despite almost desert-like summer rainfall totals. But once the ground is saturated, there’s nowhere for the water to go except into the streams and rivers. Usually flooding happens during breakup when all the melting snow runs off the frozen ground into the streams and ice jams in the rivers block the flow. Summer floods are more unusual.
Since Labor Day, 2007, we’ve been living around 30 feet away from a small stream, Goldstream Creek, which has risen between four and five feet since last week. If you look at my previous post, the log I’m resting my hand on in the photo is now completely submerged, which means if I were swimming out there today, the water would be over my head. The outside bank has slumped into the Creek in two places, but so far we haven’t lost any trees. The photo to the right shows the current water level, but even with the dramatic rise, it’s quite a bit below what it looked like during breakup this spring.
It’s really exciting living next to something that’s changing all the time like the Creek (plus, Kingfishers!). And now that we seem to have survived a 30-year flood event, I feel a little bit more secure that we’re not going to get inundated in the next high water event.
I’m looking forward to the Tanana Valley Fair, followed by a warmer, and drier August and September.
We finally started getting some of our winter snow. It started yesterday morning, and it’s been snowing pretty hard ever since then. By midnight yesterday we’d gotten an inch and a half, according to the Weather Service, and I’d guess we now have four to five inches on the ground.
Earlier in the year we went to a garage sale and scored a snow thrower for cheap. Today was my first opportunity to see if it actually worked. As promised, it started right up, and did a great job moving snow around. Unfortunately, the snow isn’t packed down much at all, and so it was perfectly happy to pick up and fling frozen dirt and gravel from the driveway. I think it might be a good idea to drive on top of the snow for awhile, and start using the snow thrower once there’s a better base underneath it.
The water delivery guy said that he used to “plow” his two mile long driveway by running his snow thrower out on one tire track, and then back on the other track. Driving over the cleared areas caused the berm in the middle to get spread out evenly over the driveway, resulting in a nice flat surface. I doubt if I’m going to go the 1.2 miles from our house to the nearest plowed road, but I might try this on the worst section of it. Or the worst section of it that’s close to our house, since there are so many bad areas…
Nika enjoys hanging out in the snow, and since she’s black, she’s really good at demonstrating how hard it’s snowing outside. This isn’t the greatest photograph, since I took it through the sliding glass door, but after I let her in, I was just about to snap a photo when she shook all the snow off on my slippers. Thanks Nika!
We woke up this morning to a light dusting of snow in the Goldstream Valley, and it’s been snowing all morning since. It appears that the winter weather switch has been thrown, so it won’t be too much longer before any snow that falls will be with us until April. Most stations in Fairbanks haven’t been above 40°F since Tuesday, and the snow on the ground will help keep the temperatures low. The last four days at our house on the Creek have been warmer than the rest of town, so I’m guessing that we’re experiencing a warming effect from the warm (relative to the air temperature) Creek water. Once it freezes over, we’re going to be one of the coldest spots in the region.
The photo shows Buddy, Kiva and Koidern waiting at the door to the deck. It’s a sliding glass door, which isn’t exactly optimal when the dogs want to go in and out every fifteen minutes, but it’s great to have all the light from such a large glass surface. We put a piece of 1/8" Lexan over the lower pane of glass to protect it from dog toenails.
Yesterday I had a chance to actually cook something on our new stove. We got it on Wednesday, moved it into the house on Thursday, converted it to propane and hooked it up on Friday, but we’ve been so busy with moving and taking care of Ivan that we hadn’t had a chance to do anything except boil water on it. I made pancakes and bacon. The stove has a large oval shaped central burner with a griddle that fits over the top of it, but I used our cast-iron griddle on the left two burners instead. Like the electric range we bought six months ago, the new stove is able to heat my biggest cast-iron pan from edge to edge and cooked a full pan of bacon evenly with a minimum of rotating.
The pancakes weren’t as good because I need to learn the correct burner settings again. I'd just gotten used to the electric, but I'm already enjoying the gas stove. It's nice even heat, it's really easy to manipulate the burner settings because you can actually see the flame. This particular stove has a simmer burner in addition to the central griddle. I tried the simmer burner last night, but I think it’s set a bit to high at the moment.
We debated getting a dual-fuel range but Consumer Reports tested electric and gas ranges in July and didn't find any differences in evenness or temperature control between the two, and the dual-fuel models we saw were all more than twice as expensive as a single fuel range. I bake a lot of bread, so I think the moisture produced during propane combustion might actually be a good thing for the crust. I'm hoping to have a bit of time during the week to try out a recipe from my new bread book.
Soon we should also receive the firebox parts for our wood-burning cook stove. Last weekend I managed to get all the melted, warped, and cracked pieces (!) of cast-iron out of the firebox, and called Lehman's. They sell the stove we have, and also sell parts for it. Shipping all that cast iron from Ohio to Alaska is going to cost more than $100. But it'll be worth it. It's been cold and rainy all weekend and I wished I could have fired up the wood stove. Gotta move some firewood from the old house.
On the subject of temperatures, we’ve already noticed that it’s much colder at our place than in the rest of town, and certainly by comparison to our old house in the hills. I’ve got a little plot on the sidebar (labelled ‘Temperature anomaly’) that shows the difference between the morning temperature at our house, and an average of the temperature readings from the Fairbanks area. Each blue bar represents a single day’s observation going back two weeks and the orange lines show the average anomaly for each week. Thus far, it appears that we’re about 10 degrees below the Fairbanks average when it’s clear, and pretty close to average when it’s cloudy.
We're still moving stuff from the old house to the new one, but are nearing the end of that process. Unpacking has now overtaken packing so the house is starting to look more like a place that people live, rather than an empty storage unit. We’ve got the first floor set up much the way the previous owners had it set up with a little entry way / pantry next to the door, a “dining room” in front of the big south window, the entertainment center next to the sliding glass doors, and a couch on the opposite wall (formerly known as the “red wall”.) Right now we’re using a bookshelf as shelves for the pantry, and we haven’t figured out what to do with the area to the right of the couch (where there was a little office), but at least it’s functional. I think some sort of storage bench next to the door, a storage unit under the window, and a better pantry unit will help organize things quite a bit before the complexities (coats, boots, snow, extreme cold, etc.) of winter arrive.
Most of the stuff that had been in the library / junk room in our old house, as well as the stuff from the office (we had a lot of rooms in the old house…) have been shoved into the third room on the second floor of our new house. This is supposed to become an office in the near future, but at the moment it’s looking a lot more like a new take on the “junk room” concept. The red cabin, which is absorbing everything from the garage also has this appearance. Until we can get a handle on unpacking some of the boxes, both areas are going to be pretty hard to navigate.
Still, it’s all progress. I’m sure it’ll be awhile before it really feels like home, but having a bunch of our normal stuff close by and out in similar places certainly helps.