Tropics in Alaska

Ahhh I am sorry to report that it is indeed still winter up here. Sixteen inches of snow fell over the weekend and temperatures still range between -40F (or colder, but I wouldn’t know because our thermometer only goes to -40 below) to 10F above.  I literally don’t know anyone who lives here who has not had car trouble at some point this winter. Cars are just not meant to be driven in subarctic temperatures. It’s true.

Almost bottomed out..yikes!

But instead of harping on about the cold (afterall what did I expect moving to Fairbanks and all) I’ll let you all in on some more subarctic secrets (this stuff probably happens in the arctic as well and probably in the antarctic too come to think of it).

1. Square tires. Nope, it’s not a typo, square tires happen when it’s extremely cold (even for Alaska standards) and the air in the tire and the rubber freezes to the shape of the tire while it is parked. So the flat part that touches the ground freezes flat. When you start up the car and drive it feels like you have 4 flat tires – makes for a bumpy ride! Luckily with friction it slowly warms up, evens out and becomes round again.

2. Diamond Dust. Don’t know if this is the “official” term, sounds more like a code word for drugs if you ask me. But to be fair, people on drugs probably see this phenomenon too, without ever traveling up here! On cold, sunny days ice particles dance through the sky and glitter like diamonds. It’s truly amazing! The first time I saw it, I definitely thought something was wrong with my eyes!

3. Sun Dog. Rainbow parenthesis around the sun. No kidding. To the left and to the right or above and below.  This happens because light gets refracted in the ice particles that are whirring through the air. For a picture and better explanation of both diamond dust and sun dog click here.

4. Hoar Frost. Frost builds up upon frost which has the effect of producing sheaths of frost, which makes everything look like a scene out of Narnia. For an explanation of hoar frost click here.

5. Northern Lights also known as Aurora Borealis. I don’t need to explain these guys, except have I mentioned that we have a direct view of the aurora out of our bedroom window?? Yes, we are living the life. Here are some shots I took (btw I’m still learning how to photograph the aurora, it’s not as easy as it may seem, so forgive the blurriness).

Northern Lights


Northern Lights - view out of the bedroom window

6. Ice Fog. This one is a little annoying actually, but once again in extremely cold temps water vapor turns into ice which mixes with car exhaust, coal plant exhaust and wood stove smoke to form one soupy mix of particles that stick around in low lying areas until the temperatures rise again. Yum! Happens especially in and around downtown Fairbanks. Good thing we live above that mess.

7. Tropic Fever. What happens to Fairbanksans when they have been through five months of winter and know they still have 3-4 months more to go. It manifests itself in limbo competitions, flower leis and bbq’ing in -15F surrounded by snow and hoar frost (special thank you to Marilyn for the tropical additions!).

Doin' the limbo dance...

Frozen fireweed in the backyard


~ by yhossain on February 22, 2011.

2 Responses to “Tropics in Alaska”

  1. Ah, Jazz, your writing takes me away to a distant land on a cold (Washingtonian cold) winter night. Although I don’t envy your plight of freezing temperatures, I’m in awe that you get to watch the Northern Lights every night from your home. It’s always been a dream of mine to view such a phenomenon. Seriously though, diamond dust, hoar frost, and sun dogs? Sounds like every high conversation I overheard in San Francisco. 😛 Hugs, Dani

  2. Dani, sorry I am responding so late. So glad the blog was able to transport you, I think that is the hope of every writer ;).
    If you come north in August/September you should be able to see the Northern Lights without freezing your bum off. heheh. They probably won’t be as strong as in January though.
    Right now I’m just so happy that the sun and daylight hours have not only come back but surpassed “normal” levels already, we have daylight until 11pm! It’s so energizing!
    Hope things are really really good in DC.
    Big hug.

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