What's Going On Weatherwise
This is the male parental unit of A Little Alaska, Eric Manzer, giving Molly a break from her writing schedule - but mostly freeing her to prepare for talks she’s presenting at this year’s Life is Good and possibly Free to Be unschooling conferences. She’s so “on it” compared to me. I’m kind of a hammer-and-nails, nets-and-lines guy, but there are things about the Great State and our tiny corner of it that truly impassion me and I’d like to share a few with you. Let’s start with weather.
When we’re talking to people ‘Outside’, there are always questions about the weather. As someone who’s spent the bulk of my life outdoors, whether commercial fishing, building something, sailing or mountaineering, paying attention to weather is integral to my daily life. While summer weather is mostly beautiful in Cordova, it’s highly variable and can sometimes be extreme.
Unlike the harsh Alaskan interior, weather conditions in coastal communities like ours are moderated by the ocean. For us that’d be the waters of the Alaskan Gyre. As you can see in the map, Cordova sits near the apex of the Gulf of Alaska. I know it looks like the arc of the Alaska Current flows hundreds of miles offshore, but in reality, it’s readily observable even from the beach.
Things that float by are headed West. Notice that the water feeding the Alaska Current branches from the North Pacific Current down in the Transition Zone at around 45 degrees north latitude, roughly the middle of Oregon. From there, it moves north along British Columbia, Canada and Southeast Alaska up to where Cordova sits, slightly above 60 degrees north latitude. Water that originates 1200 miles South is a lot warmer than it would be if it were just hanging around Alaska – averaging around 40F this time of year and 58F or more in Summer. This keeps the harbors of the South coast, including Cordova, ice-free in winter, and relatively warm.
In summer, thanks to almost twenty-four hour daylight, the Alaskan Interior heats up. Summer temperatures in the 90’s are not uncommon in Fairbanks, about 300 miles North of us. Of course in Winter, -35F is also not uncommon. The frequent arguments between extreme Interior weather and moderate Coastal weather often play out right over our heads – reminding me of sibling twins I’ve known.
But here’s where geology comes in. Whoever’s been in charge of plate tectonics for the last several hundred million years has done a pretty amazing job mediating between these two combatants. The underwater chunk of the Earth’s crust known as the Pacific Plate has been pushing North into Alaska’s coastal armpit at the rate of 2-3 inches a year and has thrown up some spectacular barriers. Cordova, our town, sits below the first of these - the Chugach Mountains. Look again at the maps. If you imagine the Gulf of Alaska as an eyeball, the Chugach arc around it like an eyelash. Every extreme ski or snowboard movie you’ve seen features scenes shot in the Chugach. They’re like the Grand Tetons near Jackson Hole, WY to the tenth power. The second barrier is the Alaska Range, home to North America’s tallest mountain, Denali, the Great One, once called McKinley. If the Chugach is the eyelash, the Alaska Range is the eyebrow – as the satellite photo above illustrates. Both arcs help shield the South coast from the seasonal extremes of the vast Alaskan Interior.
When the sky changes I can look up and see which twin is testing the other, then when the clouds are boiling and the wind is raging, which of the twins is winning this round, knowing they’ll soon retreat to their own domains and leave us in peace again – for a while.
Eric Manzer is the husband of Molly Mulvaney, an unschooling mom with a part time law practice. You can read more about Eric in this blogpost: https://www.alittlealaska.com/post/who-is-a-little-alaska/
They live with their teen son in Cordova, Alaska. Their venture, a little alaska...BIG FUN! is a unique opportunity for small groups of teens to stay, play and grow with them in an eclectic town on the edge of the wilderness. Teens have fun, trust themselves, grow their confidence and increase their independence. You are invited to join us for epic adventures and respectful appreciation of the natural world and our place in it.