Monday, January 30, 2012


Yesterday morning, we were treated to some maktak (or muktuk).  This is the outer layer of whale blubber right next to the skin of a bowhead whale. Here, he is cutting very thin slices of the uncooked skin and fat using an ulu, which is a traditional knife. Maktak is one of the primary sources of vitamin C in the traditional diet. In addition, he brought in some frozen whale meat which he also sliced very thinly and some that he had sautéed with green onions and garlic. Tasty but needed teriyaki sauce...

On another note, we finally did break the -50°F barrier though there were very few celebrating beyond the students trying to get their picture taken in front of the university temperature sign in their swim wear. Many of the temperature signs around town had stopped working and the electronic thermometers in most vehicles stop working. I got a check engine light on my truck and the error code is listed as "Unreasonable outside air temperature." No argument from me. As is typical, there was no wind and yesterday, I managed to go for a short walk and it felt almost pleasant compared to Barrow. No wind really makes a huge difference. As you can see, it looks as if our cold spell is pretty much over with positive temperatures projected by the end of the week. (Not that I'll care by then as I'll be enroute to Ethiopia)

Thursday, January 26, 2012


 I read that there was a lot of solar activity today so there should be a lot of auroral activity. Barrow is north of the auroral oval and normally doesn't get too many aurora overhead. Today was different. The first shot is facing north looking out over the sea ice. There is a lot of digital noise as I was using ISO 1600 and a long exposure. As you can see from the star images, I also was not using a tripod. The skies here are a lot darker than in Fairbanks so I thought I would try some aurora photos. Both of these were taken at F5 and 5 sec exposure. No post processing.

This one was taken looking east. I'm not sure why the lower right side of the image looks blurry. No exciting colors in the aurora, at least not here in Barrow. I was thinking about dropping the ISO to 1600 but was loosing feeling in my fingers and I didn't have a tripod. Since the aurora are moving, the longer the exposure, the less detail you capture. Next time, I'll try and remember to bring a tripod.

As you can see in this graphic from the auroral forecast site, the auroral oval actually passes through Barrow. Usually, it is pretty well centered on Fairbanks.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Here Comes the Sun

A few days ago, the sun returned to Barrow ending 64 days of absence. It was only visible for a short time but people were celebrating it's reappearance. During the flight north this morning, it was dark and foggy for much of the way and even as we were approaching Deadhorse, the first stop on the flight, you couldn't see any lights during the approach. It felt a bit eerie with the fog visible in the landing lights but you couldn't see anything on the ground until passing over the end of the runway. The pilot reported that it was -54°F with a 10 knot breeze which only added to the eerie feeling. For those interested, that equates to -84°F with windchill. Cold in anyones book.

I'm in Barrow to work on the network and VoIP infrastructure as part of my project. It's much easier to get some things done when no one else is around using the network. Not much else going on except getting ready to leave for Ethiopia in a little more than a week.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Extended Cold Spell

Another post (sigh...) with absolutely no motorcycle content. In fact, even if I did have a sidecar, I don't think that I would venture out. No bike maintenance as the garage is still below freezing. Plus, what's the hurry.

I hope everyone else in the U.S. is enjoying their warm winter. When it's nice and warm in the northeastern U.S., it is usually very cold up here. We've really are having an extended cold spell. In Fairbanks, we've been getting down to about -48°F but just a little ways east in North Pole, they were seeing low temperatures below -55°F. This has been one of those times when you are glad to live in the hills. This photo is sunrise and you can see the ice fog in town. Evidence of a temperature inversion is the smoke rising from a power plant on the right side of the picture. The smoke rises towards colder air and it turns down towards the ground. We are above the inversion and the temperature was 20°F warmer than in town. That's pretty significant. When it gets really cold, the weather is about the only thing folks around here talk about.

The ice fog really makes it look and feel really cold when you're down in it. This is the arctic web cam located at the local newspaper building. It is looking south towards the city of Fairbanks and the Cushman Street bridge. Needless to say, I avoid walking in town. I did manage to get out a couple of times but only walked about 10 miles for the week. Pretty pathetic. Still waiting for warmer weather to get out on the bicycle. Last Friday, I talked to a grad student with a bicycle waiting at the bus stop. She uses the bicycle on campus and to ride back to her cabin from the bus stop. It's her only means of transportation.

I did get a kick over this weather report. If you've driven the Alaska Highway, you've passed through Teslin, YT, and I don't believe that it was -97°F. Drilling down into the site you would've found out that they were counting wind chill something the web site usually doesn't report. The National Weather Service charts don't even have wind chill calculated for anything below -45°F. It must've been really cold and windy.

So far this month, over half of the days have been below -40 and they are predicting that temperatures will be dropping to the cellar later this week. I'm not sure what that means but it doesn't sound good. Maybe we'll get a "snow day" yet this winter. In the last 30 years, I only remember one "school optional" day and it was during an extended cold with temperatures dropping to -68°F. The school district was having too many bus problems.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Cabin Fever

The days are supposed to be getting longer but it isn't happening quite fast enough. Only about a minute per day at this time of year. This iPhone picture was taken at high noon on New Years Day and even if it wasn't cloudy, it would still feel rather bleak. Needless to say, I haven't been out walking very many miles and I'm starting to feel a little cooped up. I think it's called "cabin fever." Around town, the elevation is a little lower and there has been a fair amount of ice fog. For those who haven't experienced this meteorological wonder, it is a very small frozen water droplets which form around a chunk of some contaminent such as soot. When the temperature drops and there is no breeze to keep the air mixed, an inversion sets up. This is when the cold, dense air settles in the lower areas and all sorts of unhealthy stuff such as smoke from furnaces, wood stoves and power plants move towards the colder air which is now down instead of up. And the particulates in the smoke become ice fog. Very unhealthy conditions and it gets Fairbanks listed on the EPA top ten worst pollution lists every year. A good reason to live in the hills and one more reason to not do much aerobic exercise.

We are in the middle of an extended cold spell with many days during the last couple of weeks hovering around 40 below (°F or °C). Manley Hot Springs, a small village north of Fairbanks, had the dubious honor of being number 1 on the coldest places on earth website for a couple of days.  My mom is up for the holidays and (the real reason) to see her first great-grand baby. She has been getting a good taste of our winter weather. A bit colder than her home in Corvallis. Life doesn't stop when it gets cold though it does tend to get a bit more complicated. Yesterday evening was spent helping my oldest son replacing some frozen pipes.

On Monday afternoon, we spotted a young visitor in our yard. Sorry for the quality of the picture but it was starting to get dark. The tracks have crossed our yard numerous times over the last couple of days and I saw the yearling on the road once while walking the dogs. It was still attempting to follow it's mother while she was trying to send it on it's way. It looks small in the picture with the plants in the foreground but in reality, it's back is over six feet high. Long legs...