A Winter Wonderland, Southeast Alaska Style

By , November 30, 2010

We’ve been waiting for it to start, and now it has: we’ve begun the roller coaster ride of winter in Southeast Alaska.

I truly, deeply, passionately love a White Christmas. As a kid, I used to fret about it a lot, but then I realized something that has helped me be philosophical about it: in our region, snow is primarily a transitional weather condition.

Have you ever read about what, exactly, has to happen to make snow? It’s complicated! I won’t go into it (because, frankly, I can’t quote the process from memory) but let’s just say that it leaves me wondering that there’s so much snow in the world!

In most of Southeast Alaska, snow falls in the transition between warm and cold air masses. If we’re lucky, it’ll fall as warm gives way to cold, as that means it’ll stay around awhile. More often, it comes at the end of a cold snap, and quickly turns to rain.

In our years of living in Juneau, I observed a few things about the weather, general trends that gave us some idea of what might happen next. In the winter, north wind brings clear, cold weather, south wind brings wet, warm weather. And, there’s almost always a warm spell right around Christmas, that makes the holiday a green one more often than not.

These trends held fairly true for most of Southeast Alaska, but I’ve noticed they don’t here in Haines. That’s odd, since the Juneau and Haines forecasts are often fairly close. Here, either wind brings warm or cold; snow falls more often than just in the transitions between fronts; Christmas is white more often than not.

To complicate matters, our weather on the homestead differs from Haines’s, particularly in the winter. Our weather is dominated by Lynn Canal, on the edge of which we sit. Haines sits at the junction of Lynn Canal and the Chilkat Valley. Those two, differing weather systems rush down and meet over town, so they get a lot more snow than we do, and are generally colder.

That leaves us watching the sky and listening to the weather report a lot, especially in winter.

By the way, today is Saint Andrew’s Day, a namesake day for me!

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