So on April 14th, we’re hiking in warm Spring conditions in Eagle River Valley near Echo Bend, about three miles from the Eagle River Nature Center; and five days later and less than 15 miles away, we’re tromping through snow in Eagle River’s South Fork valley.
We passed a pair of hikers. “It looks like March,” I commented. “More like January,” one of them responded.
In April, as Easter approached, people in Eagle River and around Anchorage were hooking up hoses and preparing their gardening equipment. Lawns were thatched, limed and fertilized. Bushes were pruned. Snow tires were being changed.
And then it dumped – at least eight inches of snow overnight and several inches a day later, with more than 20 inches at higher elevations. I’ve been told that wildly unpredictable weather such as this is common in Patagonia, at the southern tip of South America. And looking back over my many years in Alaska, I can remember light snowfalls in April and even May that definitely changed the nature of the kids’ Easter egg hunts. But they didn’t seem as dramatic and abrupt as the recent onslaught.
“The sudden snowfall might have seemed out of place because of the relatively warm March we enjoyed,” commented a National Weather Service (NWS) meteorologist in a telephone conversation.
According to NWS records dating back 65 years (to 1954) for the Anchorage area, only 13 snowfalls greater than eight inches are recorded for the month of April.
Our recent accumulation is paltry compared to 1963, when April brought 27.6 inches; and April 2008 gave us 30.8 inches. Snow in May is quite rare, but it has occurred.
GOING WITH THE FLOW: I’ve noticed that many of our outdoor recreationists seem to take things in stride, or roll with the punches so to speak, when it comes to weather. Soon after our recent snowfall, which at higher elevations totaled more than 20 inches, a friend of mine tromped up to Mile High pass and beyond. While many folks have put their skis away, another friend skied into South Fork valley, despite the wet, sticky snow.
Skiers and snowboarders have been extending winter by venturing to Hatcher Pass, which received about two feet of new snow.
Turnagain Pass has been a popular skiing and snowboarding venue late in the season, but avalanche danger remained quite high in areas above 2,000 feet.
The snow has melted quickly off lower elevations that face south, such as the popular Turnagain Arm Trail. Portions of south-facing mountain slopes will soon melt off, making access to the ridges much easier—but watch for cornices and ridges of wind-loaded snow.
Forestry officials have noted that moisture from the late snows will saturate the ground and be helpful in suppressing wildfires as we move into summer. That’s good news.
Normally I am obsessed with keeping my driveway clear of snow and ice, but during our recent snowfalls I didn’t touch a shovel. I was happy to let nature do the work.
Frank E. Baker is a freelance writer who lives in Eagle River with wife Rebekah, a retired elementary school teacher.