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AK Beat: Not a cloud in the sky ... just swans?

Craig MedredAlaska Dispatch

Not clouds, just thousands of Arctic swans: A formation of tundra swans created a massive radar blip in Utah on a National Weather Service radar screen in Salt Lake City on Monday evening, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. Without a cloud in the sky, meteorologists saw a small blip appear and keep growing and growing. The swans ended up creating a radar track more than 50 miles long. The report said the event caused little surprise in the office because a swan cloud happens at least once a year. The swans spend the summer nesting and rearing young in the Arctic -- mostly in Russia, Canada and Alaska -- before migrating thousands of miles south for the winter. Utah wildlife officials estimate that on average each year 40,000 swans travel through the Beehive State twice on their way between the Arctic and Central California.

APD looking for missing JBER airman: Anchorage police are asking for the public's help in locating 22-year-old Tanner Volkers, an airman at Joint-Base Elmendorf Richardson, who was last seen by his roommate Saturday evening at his home. A missing person report was filed Sunday, and police learned that Volkers had taken some of his belongings and left of his own accord, and said that they don't suspect foul play in the disappearance. Police said Volkers has "some health concerns." Volkers is reported to frequent area trails in Anchorage and Eagle River, and is described as a white male, 5 feet 10 inches tall, weighing about 150 pounds with brown hair and brown eyes. He drives a 2011 black Dodge pickup. Anyone with information is asked to call police at 907-786-8900. See a flyer with photos of Volkers, here.

Snow on the way for Southcentral?: Could there be a White Christmas developing for the snow-short, now gray and drizzly urban hub of Alaska? Maybe. The National Weather Service isn't proclaiming such just yet, but the agency's long-term forecast discussion on Tuesday was hinting at "a prolonged and impressive event" for Anchorage and environs. If, of course, the models are right. Sometimes they are; sometimes they aren't. The immediate forecast is for more drizzle, maybe with some freezing rain, improving into partly cloudy skies by midweek. But far to the west, there is hope for those who like snow. Cold air is sitting over the Bering Strait, and a warm and wet push of Pacific air looks to be moving into the Gulf of Alaska, and the two are going to collide somewhere. "There is no doubt that precipitation will begin as snow across portions of the Gulf Coast as early as Thursday night into Friday," forecasters predict. What happens next is the big unknown. One model limits snowfall, but another shows the white stuff dumping on Anchorage, the Matanuska-Susitna Valley and the Kenai Peninsula. "For now," the Weather Service concluded, "the ongoing forecast will take a somewhat conservative middle ground approach, which calls for widespread precipitation across most of Southern Alaska Friday into Saturday. Localized snowfall potential still remains somewhat uncertain." That said, it is winter in Alaska. The snow is coming sooner or later. It might not be a bad idea to get out that snow shovel. See a special weather statement from the NWS, here.

REI coming to Fairbanks: National outdoor retailer REI is coming to Fairbanks, according to a company press release sent out Tuesday. A 30,000-square-foot store will open in the spring of 2014, at the southwest corner of Old Steese Highway and College Avenue, the release states. The Fairbanks store will be the second location of the popular outdoor retailer in Alaska, joining Anchorage. “REI is honored to join the Fairbanks community and help outfit them for their adventurous lifestyles,” Kevin Golic, REI retail director for the Washington and Alaska district, said in the release. REI says it will hire approximately 50 new employees for the store. 

Still more freezing rain: Another round of freezing rain hit Southcentral Alaska Tuesday, with up to a tenth of an inch of ice potentially accumulating, according to the National Weather Service. Schools remained open, but the Valley Mover bus system canceled service. The National Weather Service issued freezing rain advisories for the Anchorage area and the Matanuska Valley that last through noon Tuesday. If you’re sick of freezing rain, take comfort in the knowledge that what the NWS calls a “dramatic pattern shift” is in the offing; beginning Wednesday temperatures will plummet to below zero across the region.

Advertising for schoolchildren: What do you do if your community shrinks to the size where it can no longer support a school? If you’re the community of Tenakee Springs, you take out an ad for more families. The ad, which is running on the Bellingham, Wash., craigslist, leans heavily on Alaska iconography to lure families with school-aged children to the Chichagof Island village. It touts hunting, fishing, hiking and boating opportunities and notes that the town has a hot spring. It even plays up the absence of cars -- along with crime and violence -- as a measure of the simple life. Not sure what you’d do for work in a small Southeast Alaska village connected to other communities only by boat and seaplane? The town has high-speed Internet, the ad points out, and “telecommuting and self employment ventures are a great way to earn a living while raising your family in a healthy, safe environment.” The Chatham School District board voted to close Tenakee Springs’ K-12 school this summer, after just five students -- two of them foreign exchange students -- were enrolled for this fall, but the possibility of re-opening it remains.

Denali open to snowmachines: Plagued with rain, freezing drizzle and wet, Alaska's largest city might be looking a lot like a northern Seattle this December, but there is winter not far to the north. Denali National Park and Preserve announced Monday that there is now enough snow to allow snowmachines to pursue "traditional activities'' in the southern additions to the park, although parks lands north of the Alaska Range remain closed due to a lack of snow. Maps with GPS coordinates delineating open and closed park areas are available on the park website. Park officials also noted that although the park is now open, it remains "the rider’s responsibility to avoid locations where wind or topographic conditions may have reduced snow depth and created situations where damage to vegetation or soils could occur, or where vegetation is taller than the protective snow cover." Ice is still thin, especially in rivers and creeks, throughout the area, and avalanche dangers are high in some areas. Riders should be alert to such dangers, carry survival gear when traveling, and tell someone of their route and schedule in case a search becomes necessary.