If the stride of your bunny boots makes the concrete groan and the crunch of snow echo wildly through the arctic air, perhaps you’re in the midst of the Alaska winter.
By any measure, the Kenai Peninsula’s winter is serious. But ask a local and they are likely to compare the Kenai’s worst to the average of the state’s more northern cities — say Fairbanks or the Interior.
But this winter, particularly the last several weeks, area temperatures have been nippy, reaching lows of 25 below or worse in some areas.
But just how is this winter stacking up to others?
Dale Howard, owner of Kenai Joe’s, isn’t necessarily impressed.
“It is not the coldest,” he said. “I came up in ’75 and that was the coldest I’ve ever seen I think. It was 40 below for three weeks or something and 20 below for five weeks or six weeks. But it is colder than it has been being.”
He said that winter in 1975 was “the cold winter” and he spent it holed up in a Winnebago.
“It was cold,” he said with a laugh, noting he survived only because he was “30 years younger” than he is now.
On average, Southcentral Alaska’s temperatures have been mostly consistent with prior years, said National Weather Service meteorologist Dave Stricklan.
November was an average of seven degrees colder for the area and December was four degrees warmer. Exact data for the Central Peninsula isn’t yet available, Stricklan said.
“We have had some cold periods,” he said. “... So far we are a little colder in January but the month is not over so it is kind of hard to take two weeks of cold weather and throw it in a month and say we are below normal.”
What isn’t normal, however, is the area’s snowfall he said.
“All of Southcentral Alaska has more snow than the average year,” he said. “We had record snow from Homer to Eagle River, all over in Prince William Sound. For the whole month of December there were records broken all over.”
About 90 inches of snow has landed in the Anchorage area so far, close to double the average of 45 inches for this time of year, Stricklan said.
According to Kenai Municipal Airport estimates compiled by AccuWeather, the Kenai area has received 23 inches of snowfall so far this season. Official results from the National Weather Service aren’t yet available.
“I don’t feel it is the snowiest I have experienced,” said Candace Ward, a park ranger of 28 years at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.
Ward pointed to the winter of 2000 as one of the worst snow years in recent memory.
“It is very, very snowy this year, especially Seward Highway to Anchorage around to the Homer side and this western Peninsula which tends to be a little drier,” she said. “I just haven’t seen the type of accumulation we had at that time (in 2000).”
The snowfall wasn’t much concern to Howard.
“Some years we get a little more, and some years we get a little less,” he said. “Every winter is cold and dark.”
Ned Magen, who works in Central Peninsula Hospital’s emergency room, said crews have seen “a few more” cases of hypothermia and frostbite this year, but nothing alarming.
He said there have been particularly more incidents of carbon monoxide poisoning in the area, which usually occurs more in the winter. He encouraged residents to make sure they have carbon monoxide detectors — the deadly gas is colorless, odorless, tasteless and hard to detect — and to double check the batteries often.
Central Emergency Services also reported the cold weather has sparked an increase in the number of chimney fires, which can often expand and consume homes quickly. Officials encourage residents to have their chimneys cleaned regularly by a professional, burn dry, seasoned wood only and check smoke detectors often.
On Saturday, a movement of Arctic air dropped into Northern Alaska and moved across the southwest part of the state plunging temperatures in the Interior to 40 below in some places, according to the National Weather Service. Wind chill was expected to bring 40 to 60 below in other areas with reduced visibility due to blowing snow.
Other parts of the state have also piled up large amounts of snow, particularly in Valdez and Cordova.
Valdez has seen more than 26 feet of snow since November and Cordova more than 172 inches during the same time, according to reports. Anchorage is on pace to have one of the snowiest winters ever and, if precipitation keeps up, it might surpass the previous record of 132.8 inches set in 1954-55, according to reports.
The Kenai has experienced several windstorms which left an estimated 9,000 residents without power in November. Those low-pressure systems continued to pound the area until recently.
“You just get into a weather pattern like that,” Stricklan said. “It is kind of like right now. We have had these cold temperatures for over a week and it is just kind of stagnant the way it is with the high pressure in the North.”
And the rest of the winter?
“That would be tough to forecast that,” Stricklan said. “But it is going to be cold here for the next week or so still ... but it is pretty hard to predict what it is going to be like in March.”
Howard offered a reminder to weather-worn residents.
“It is one day closer to the Fourth of July,” he said with a laugh.