Sunday, January 6, 2013

Notes from the North: Birch and Spruce Falling on Snow

About two days after our first hike while we were up in the northlands, a Chinook wind came up, blowing from the southeast across the Kenai and Chugach Mountains toward town. Temperatures rapidly went from the mid-teens to about 35 to 45°F. The main roads became icy, then slushy, then dry, with back streets turning into solid glare ice for several days. I prefer temperatures to be at 20°F or lower when driving on icy roads.

Tree stump with layered corn snow.
On our hike that first Chinook day, snow in the area was melting, turning from a dry, powdery snow to an icy corn snow. We could see layers in the snow, counting eight on one flat surface. Tree litter, dominantly from black spruce but also from birch, lay all over a snow surface pockmarked by rain drops and drips from tree limbs and branches.

Spruce twig and cone on pockmarked snow.
Dried birch leaf and other litter on snow.
Dried Devil's club branch or flower on snow.
We hiked on the trail with metal chains on our boots. The chains iced up frequently, making walking awkward. Overall, it was quite a different scene than the hike two days prior.

An aside: Wind directions recorded by the Weather Underground don't make any sense to me, unless they show the direction the wind is blowing toward, opposite from standard protocol. Their recordings indicate winds shifting from being generally easterly to being variable and generally westerly to northerly.

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