SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

Dreaming of a Wet Christmas
By Dave Kiffer


November 20, 2006

Ketchikan, Alaska - I've been asked by three different people what it means to have significant snow before Thanksgiving.

Does it mean a harsh winter? Does it mean a mild winter? Does it mean six more weeks of muskrats seeing their shadows?

My initial reaction was to reply "what do you think I am? A meteorologist?"

But that inspired one of my friends to retort: "I'm not asking about shooting stars, you doofus!"

Uh, right.

gif Cabin Fever

Cabin fever
Artist Larry Wright, The Detroit News
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Since I appear to have the only known copy of "Poor Skookum Gregorchuck's Sourdough Almanac" people seem to think that I have cornered the market on local folk/anecdotal wisdom.

So here goes.

If if snows before Thanksgiving, it means we're going to have a mild winter.

I can remember maybe five times that it has snowed heavily before Thanksgiving in the last 30 years or so. At least three of those times, it hardly snowed at all the rest of the year. One time, it continued to snow up until Christmas and then stopped for the rest of the year. One time it kept snowing until March. That was a year in which I lived in Wyoming. That doesn't count.

Disclaimer time: Although broad long-term trends can be deduced, past performance is not an absolute indicator of potential performance. Invest accordingly.

Predicting harsh winters in Ketchikan is a little like shooting attorneys in a barrel. Even if you hit one, it doesn't matter.

Are you going to alter your plans if the winter is harsher? Is some extra snow going to cause you to extend your Palm Springs Snowbird Vacation? The weather isn't the issue, the available balance on your credit card is.

If you can live year round under about 14 feet of water, then a couple of feet of frozen precip isn't going to make much of difference.

In the big picture, we don't get harsh winters anyway.

Think about it.

Valdez gets 200 inches of snow each winter. Fairbanks regularly hovers in the -50 temperature range. The ocean FREEZES OVER in Barrow!

In Ketchikan, we get a little snow and slush and everyone goes "wee, wee, wee all the way home." Get a grip. Better yet, get four grips (snow tires) and stop driving like an idiot!

I spent part of the last week in Juneau and, in that one week, Juneau had a worse winter than Ketchikan has had in my lifetime here.

First it snowed something like 30 inches on Monday (okay, 24.7 inches but who's counting). Basically, the whole town shut down because there were four foot high snow berms everywhere.

Then it snowed another half a foot on Tuesday. And again on Wednesday. It only snowed a couple of inches on Thursday and Friday, but by then it was simply icing on the chill cake.

The snow wasn't the worst part. They get these little meteorological "events" in Juneau called Taku Winds. And if something is named after a glacier you know it's trouble.

The air temp was around 15 degrees, but the Taku Wind was pushing that air around at between 40 and 60 mph most of the week.

With a wind chill well into the negatives, it was more than a little nippy outside.

It was so cold that the Legislators - in town for a special session - had to keep their hands in their own pockets!

I first experienced the joy of a Taku Wind when I was in Juneau for a school trip one January in the early 1970s. The temperature was a brisk minus 10 but the 50 mph winds made it feel something like minus 60. We naturally went about out business bundled up in moon suits.

Then one day, the wind stopped and the sun came out. We were outside without our coats because it felt so much warmer without the wind (hey, a 40 degree increase in temperature still feels nice when it was minus 273 Kelvin the day before).

At one point, we walked by a outdoor thermometer at the Behrends Building. The thermometer read "-15." Suddenly, we started to get really cold and - by the time we got back to the church we were staying at - we were almost hypothermic.

It was a perfect example of one only being as cold as one thought one was. And to a bunch of Ketchikan kids, minus 15 was pretty danged cold.

So - to keep a long digression short - last week Juneau had a tough, wintry week (fortunately not as bad that earlier one I remembered).

Last week, Ketchikan had a few inches of slush and snow.

Maybe we'll have some more this year. Maybe not. Odds are we won't have a white Christmas. Odds are we'll have a cold, clear, slightly snowy February.

Odds are it will rain this winter. It will rain, it will rain, it will rain.

And you don't have to shovel rain.


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

Dave Kiffer ©2006

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