You can’t get too much winter in the winter.
I recently sent my mother a picture of the view out of our living room window. It showed a tall spruce heavy with what appeared to be snow, but deciduous trees in the background were also coated in white. She replied, “You are positively flocked!” I had NO idea what that meant, so had to Google it. She was, as I’m sure many of you know, referring to the artificial Christmas trees that look like they are covered in snow or frost. I also learned that “flocking” means sticking little bits of fiber to a solid surface with glue…like those little hard animal figurines that are fuzzy. Supposedly flocking goes back to 1000 b.c. #themoreyouknow. Back to the real stuff–it’s been occurring since the dawn of hydrologic cycles and sub-freezing temperatures. Take that early civilization!
In other chilly news: earlier today, my family and I made the fairly long drive out to Palmer, where we lived before moving into the city. Evan drove, and as he expertly maneuvered the car down the highway in nearly white out conditions, he exclaimed, “I love driving in weather like this, it means that we are going to have more winter!” The last few winters have been fairly disappointing with their lack of snow. We are a winter loving family. Being from North Dakota and Minnesota we have heard people complain about the winter for decades, but it doesn’t faze us. Bring on the snow and cold! Evan is even excited to walk to work on Wednesday when it is forecast to be -25. What a guy!
Of course all of the seasons have their perks, but winter has a little something that makes us long for it when it’s over and lament its scarcity when the snow and cold don’t put on a good show. First, there are the snow sports—skiing, skating, and sledding! What is better than moving at high speeds on slippery things? Not much…maybe chocolate? Coincidentally, hot chocolate and snow sports are a likely duo often encountered during fantastic winters. Even shoveling becomes enjoyable when there is a hot chocolate reward at the end. Secondly, the northern hemisphere’s winter night sky is outstanding. It is often clear, and the illuminating and sound muffling properties of snow add a little magic to sky gazing. Orion looms above the eastern horizon after dinner and greets those out for an evening ski or dog walk. Sometimes he is the only one I see when walking or skiing with Moki. In Alaska and other northern climes we are blessed with aurora displays. There are numerous other perks: sweaters, scarves, holidays, fires, cuddling and warm nourishing foods.
After a few disappointing winters, this winter has been stellar (dendrite)! We’ve had consistent snow fall, temperatures have remained largely above zero; and, best of all, we have had a lot of hoarfrost! Have you heard of hoarfrost? it’s an incredibly beautiful winter phenomena that happens in sub-freezing yet humid places. The Old English dictionary (c. 1290) describes it as “expressing the resemblance of white feathers of frost to an old man’s beard.” This is an excellent description.
I remember seeing hoarfrost while walking near rivers or when inspecting snow conditions while back country skiing, but I have never seen anything like we’ve had in Anchorage this winter.
Let me take a moment to brush off my rarely worn snow science hat. My knowledge is limited as I’ve only taught these concepts to seven year old students and used them a bit when checking avalanche conditions in the mountains. But, I think I have the basics. Yay science!
Hoarfrost occurs when gaseous water collides with a below freezing surface, causing it to solidify without going through the liquid phase. It is similar to dew collecting on grass, trees, fences, etc., but instead of the water liquifying it solidifies into frost. Anchorage is a port city on the Cook Inlet which contains “warm” Pacific water. Tidal changes are pretty huge in the inlet, causing this water to move pretty rapidly. The combination of “warm” water and consistent movement allows the surface water to evaporate quickly, creating fog. Almost miraculously, water droplets suspended in air can remain liquid at temperatures down to -40 degrees Fahrenheit! As the fog “burns off” and returns to its vapor (gas) form, much of it interacts with solid surfaces and sticks. The result is beautiful feathering, fractal-ly, delicate frost. Some of what we see might also be “rime ice” which is created when supercooled water droplets freeze on surfaces. Alas, my snow science skills are akin to those of a second grade student, so I don’t know the difference from sight alone (although some second graders probably do know…). Some of the fog also freezes and stays suspended in the air, creating a sparkly, magical scene swirling under street lights.
We have experienced about a dozen foggy days over the past month, many back to back, causing some huge displays of hoarfrost. Chain link fences appear solid, twigs on trees have “grown” tenfold, some trees sag under the weight of inches and inches of frost. The scene is a veritable winter wonderland. It is astounding what can be built off of the smallest branch. Then, in a matter of minutes when the wind picks up–Poof! it’s gone and starts again in a few days.
While it can be difficult to get outside to enjoy all of this beuaty during the short daylight hours between baby naps, we try to get out when we can. Luckily, the trails near our house are lit at night, so we don’t have that time crunch. Winter is hard enough without being cooped up inside all day.
Maybe we are a winter loving family because 3/4 of our birthdays are in the winter? We just celebrated Opal’s first birthday. The last year went so quickly.
How is winter in your neck o’ the woods? What are your winter activities of choice?
I hope this finds you well and warm, maybe with a hot beverage.
Sending Peace and Love from Alaska,
Alex, the Rural Farmgirl