Each spring, it seems, the air of Alaska is filled with the buzz of mosquitoes and the whines of people declaring that this is undoubtedly the worst bug season they've ever experienced in their umpteen years in the far north.
This year they may have a case.
"Mosquito populations are fairly high everywhere," said Janice Chumley, integrated pest management technician at the Kenai Peninsula District office of Cooperative Extension Service.
Why? Because of weather we had nine months ago. Southcentral Alaska experienced an extremely wet fall followed directly by snow. The snow covered and insulated the ground before it could freeze very deep.
"It was a perfect overwintering blanket for insects," Chumley said.
How perfect wasn't immediately apparent because breakup came late this year; much of the state got smacked by a snowstorm a month ago. The extended cool weather delayed the hatchout, Chumley said. "But the minute it warmed up, all of those successfully overwintering sites produced clouds of mosquitoes."
The same conditions are also helping boost populations of other bugs, she added.
A post on the Anchorage Daily News Facebook page asking whether mosquitoes were worse than normal drew 100 responses from around the state within an hour. Most agreed that the mini-vampires were horrid and gave anecdotal examples.
"We have thousands and thousands in our yard every day! We have a few tiki torches, a candle repellent, a bug zapper, a homemade trap and even while using bug dope, they don't seem to be phased one bit."
"Out of CONTROL this year! Walk outside and its like within 5 seconds you are surrounded. My son is getting sooo swollen. His poor face looked like Quasimoto. We have gone through 4 cans of bug spray and I don't think it even works."
"My poor 1 year old is covered in bites from the walk from the car to the door."
"I have at least 75 bites! My sister has too many to count ... the mosquito repellent wasn't working at all!"
What is not anecdotal is the fact that the Anchorage store shelves on which mosquito control products are usually stocked have become bare in the past few days.
On Saturday, the Lowe's Home Improvement store in South Anchorage was out of Mosquito Magnets, a popular device that uses propane and a chemical scent to lure 'skeeters to a low-pressure vacuum that sucks them into a net container where they soon die. "We have a damaged one at the (Muldoon) store, none at Tudor and here we have minus one," said a Lowes customer service clerk. "Someone said they saw them at Walmart."
But the Midtown Walmart Superstore didn't have any either. Nor did The Home Depot or other stores that usually stock Mosquito Magnets or similar mosquito traps. In addition, stores were low or out of zappers, citronella candles, yard torches and other such products designed to keep mosquitoes away.
"I had 12 running feet (of shelving) with mosquito products. It's all bare," said Tim Craig, owner of Anchorage True Value Hardware in swampy Sand Lake/Jewel Lake, a neighborhood where one reader reported "visible swarms even in paved areas."
On Monday morning, Craig said he was down to "Two cans of repellent and a couple boxes of mosquito coils"
Alaska Industrial Hardware reported having hand-carried propane powered fogger units, "But only at our Kenai store."
Complaints that this year's blood-suckers laugh at repellent may be exaggerated, but at least one woman was seen recently wearing a mosquito net hat as she walked her dog in the Bayshore Area.
For those hoping to beef up their anti-mosquito arsenals, different stores gave different estimates for when new supplies would arrive -- anywhere from the last week of June to September.
The Mosquito Magnets, however, should be in stores no later than the middle of next week said Gary Bucy, owner of Alaska Housewares, Inc., the Alaska distributor for the machine.
To get the most efficient use of the Mosquito Magnet, Bucy said, it's critical to clean out the system with CO2 cartridges sold for the machine every time the propane tank is switched. "That and the Octenol (the attractant) are what's important," he said. "Fortunately, there's plenty of both in stock."
Bucy, a lifelong Alaskan, didn't think this year's mosquito crop was anything unusual. "It's just that, after last year, when we didn't have many, with the sudden warm weather it's a little more intense," he said.
"In Fairbanks, it's even worse. They're just slamming and slamming us and, as late as this season started, in my opinion, they're going to keep slamming us for a few more weeks."
Reach Mike Dunham at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4332.
By MIKE DUNHAM