Schandelmeier on Outdoors: Wind keeps winter at bay, but not for long

John Schandelmeier

Where in the heck is the snow? It is late October and it's supposed to be at least sort of cold outside.

We had snow for a bit. I actually fired up the Ski-Doo and ran around the yard some, figuring that winter was well in hand. Then came the winds, to blow away some snow and melt the rest.

Wind is one of those things that rules your life if you spend most of the day outside. In the summer I'm on the boat most of the time, where rattling around is normal. Cooking with one hand and holding down the pots with the other is doable. One foot is braced against the table and the other slides around on the grease that just spilled. You get pretty good balance after a few years practice.

Wind on land is quite another beast entirely. Did you ever try to paint while teetering way up on a ladder (it has to get done before freeze-up), when it's blowing hard enough to create ripples in the paint can?

Everyone knows that fish like to feed along the windward shoreline when the wind stirs up snails and pushes fry toward the beach. Try casting into a 30 mph October breeze sometime.

The Paxson winds of October cool the lake by mixing the warmer surface waters with the colder stuff from down deep. These winds last a week or two. As soon as it calms for a day, the lake freezes over and the caribou are walking on it.

Wind is a funny thing. It has its value. It makes good electricity that is cheaper to convert than solar energy. It mixes warm air with cooler air, thus keeping the earths temperatures a little more even. Steady winds such as jet streams and trade winds give migrating birds and aircraft a dependable boost. Big blasts, like the kind we get in the passes, keep me from having to work from a ladder and allow me to do something I actually might enjoy.

As I roll along behind the dogs on the ATV, blinking the dust from my eyes, I can contemplate the causes of wind.

I have the simple explanation. Air heated by the sun rises, and a low-pressure void is created. Colder, denser, air flows into that void -- wind.

It does get somewhat more complicated. The earth's rotation, in the northern hemisphere, causes the flow of air to go around the right-hand side of a high-pressure area.

Passes funnel that airflow and increase it as the air is constricted. The Delta and Paxson ends of Isabel Pass both get hammered. Denali gets it through Broad Pass and Anchorage gets Turnagain and Matanuska both contributing to the hillside breeze. It seems that most of Alaska is on one end or another of a mountain pass.

Fortunately, there are enough trees in the Interior to allow us to get under cover for some of the day.

And I can always paint on the lee-side of the house.

The winds of October have slowed for the time being and the temperatures have again dropped below freezing. Snow is in the forecast again and soon we hope to have the opportunity for our normal winter activities. After all, if one doesn't like snow and cold, then why in the heck be in Alaska?

John Schandelmeier is a lifelong Alaskan and two-time Yukon Quest champion. He commercial fishes in Bristol Bay and lives with his family near Paxson.


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