SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska




July 31, 2009

Ketchikan, Alaska - It stands to reason that as you read this column it will probably be cold and raining.

In my defense, as I write this, we have just had our third straight day of 80 degree plus temperatures in Ketchikan and that is not a usual occurrence, especially in the last decade or so weather spotting in Soggy Salmon City.

jpg Dave Kiffer

Dave Kiffer

For example, we all remember how lovely last summer was, don't we?

Let's roll tape!

The Fourth of July parade just about got rained out and 37 inches of rain fell in June, July and August last year We had 6 sunny days in June and 9 each in July and August. The temp never reached 80 on any day at all last year. Blah, blah, blah.

By the time really bad weather arrived in the fall, folks were at wits end because we "had not had a summer."

Like we ever really have "a summer" around here (present season excepted).

But was last year really so bad?

Sunburns were few and far between in 2008. I'm sure that we did little to increase our chance of skin cancer last year and (my, my) weren't all our complexions nice and dewy at the start of 2009?

At the least, we didn't hear all that whining that I have heard the last few days about how "darn hot" it has been.

It is a sad, but pretty true fact that for most long-timers any temperature much above 75 here is unpleasantly warm. When the humidity washes up over the 60 percent mark, you kinda feel like you are walking in water all day long. And when it only cools off into the low 60s at night, no one gets much sleep and we all get pretty cranky.

And then the fights break out as folks stand idly in front of the ice cream coolers at the grocery stores!

But I digress.

Of course, you are all wondering how this recent heat wave, and the generally nice weather we've had since Mid May stacks up.

Well, it certainly is the nicest summer - thus far - that we've had since 2004. Even if it rains all August long we will be under average for rainfall and temperatures are higher than normal.

For example, compared to last year, it has generally been about five to six degrees warmer every day thus far. And rainfall is a third of what it was last summer,

Global warming?

Well, not quite.

Most of the really, really, really hot weather was back in Ketchikan's' infancy.

If you wander through the NOAA weather stats website, you find that Ketchikan was unusually warm in the 1910s and 1920s. And most of our weather records were set in those days.

If the records are correct, Ketchikan has had six days in which the temperature topped the 90 degree mark and all in were 1912, 1913, and 1915. That includes the all time scorcher of 96 in 1913.

Considering how bad it gets when it is just above 80 now, those must have been some brutal days hereabouts. I'm sure that mosquitoes must have spontaneously combusted and that the salmon must have been poached in Ketchikan Creek.

Of course, there is always a chance that the record taking in those days was a little less stringent than it is now. They didn't have "heating degree days" then, they had "home brew quaffing degree days."

And I have often wondered if the mercury in the thermometers was wasn't as accurate then. Maybe it was a little more "elastic" than now? Who knows? At any rate, those were the "dog days" of Ketchikan's weather history.

But what about more recent heat spells?

Even under better weather observation, this current spell is certainly not unprecedented.

I admit that I haven't gone through all the records in minute detail, but in June of 1969, we had six straight days of 80 degree temperatures. I wish I could say I remember those halcyon days, but I don't. I'm sure I was out fishing that week with my father and that he was complaining about the heat.

Dad didn't like hot weather because he said it drove the fish deeper. Considering that most of our lines were 20 plus fathoms down, I can't believe that it mattered that much, but you know how fishermen are with their axioms and adages and absolutes.

Anyway, I 'm sure I got a blistering sun burn that week and it was probably the only week that I truly enjoyed icing up the fish late in the evening. I have to confess that I usually start to wilt when the temp slips much above 70.

And yet I survived three years in Lost Angeles many, many years ago. Sure it was a little touch and go when the temp got around 110 but in general with about .01 percent humidity you didn't get all that hot and bothered about anything under 100 degrees.

I was worse off in Boston years later when the temp would be in the 90s and the humidity would also be way up there. Some nights it was more comfortable to sleep in the porcelain bathtub

Of course, we didn't have air conditioning in Boston and we couldn't have lived without in California.

Speaking of which, California was the place to be (for me) when Ketchikan experienced its longest "recent" hot spell.

In August of 1977, there was a stretch in which there were 13 days of 80 plus temperatures in a 14 day period (the one day that missed was a chilly 79). Included in that heat wave were two days at 88 and two others at 89. Mpst of the other days were 85 and 86 degrees

If you believe the accuracy of the records, those were the hottest days in Ketchikan since the 1950s and are still 11 of the hottest August days on record here. The average high temperature for the entire month of August 1977 was 76 degrees, whew!

And it should come as no surprise that I left town for college the day before that heat wave started.


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Dave Kiffer is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.
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