Breakup is here, summer’s not

Change in seasons is progressing on pace, but gardeners stuck inside for now

Posted: Tuesday, April 10, 2007

A week ago, the Kenai Peninsula seemed frozen solid, roads and driveways sported glacial cover rivaling the last ice age, and all but the fiercest diehard snowmachiners were deep in that lingering “When’s-it-gonna-get-hot?” winter funk that attends early spring in Alaska.

The warming started slowly, but by this past weekend, temperatures -- at least during the daytime -- had inched northward into the 30s, and Alaska’s liquid spring began in earnest.

This week, according to the National Weather Service, we can expect rain, perhaps a few nighttime flurries of slushy snow, but mostly wet, as highs elevate into the mid 40s. It won’t be long before municipal road crews are busy vacuuming the winter’s accumulation of sand.

OK, but what about the pace of breakup? Did the bitter cold drive the frost deeper than usual?

“My guess is yes,” said Connie Royal, who has operated Connie’s Flowers in Kenai for nine years.

Temperatures went south rapidly in November, she said, even before there was any snow cover to speak of. Then came the more recent cold snap. Nevertheless, breakup should be pretty normal, Royal predicted. That means outdoor planting is still a couple of months off.

“June 1 is kind of standard,” she said.

Barb Walker has seen this kind of winter many times during her 35 years as owner of the Wagon Wheel Trading Post in Homer. Nature’s hints -- birch tree branches turning red, the cranes returning to Kachemak Bay -- suggest breakup is arriving on time, despite the bitter cold of March.

“Things are thawing on schedule,” she said.

Her customers are getting the usual advice -- plant vegetable starts indoors in a cool room with plenty of light, but wait until the end of May to replant outdoors to avoid any chance of a late frost.

Everyone wants winter to be over and summer to begin, but there simply is no escaping breakup misery. In other words, a bit of patience should get us all through the next couple of months.

Scott McKim, of the National Weather Service office in Anchorage, agreed with the garden experts -- breakup is pretty much on schedule.

“We are not seeing any long-term dips” during the next several weeks, he said. “The latest numbers (temperature predictions) are above normal.”

In fact, the outlook is above average temperatures for next three months. Does that translate into a warmer-than-normal summer? McKim wouldn’t go that far.

“That’s really hard to say,” he said.

It was, indeed, a cold winter, but breakup is a function of temperature -- when and how quickly warm air arrives dictates how long muddy periods lasts.

“As far as ice is concerned,” McKim said, “just less than 32 degrees Fahrenheit is the same as below zero.”

Walker suggested the general lack of snow cover in the Homer area might mean a water shortage later this year.

McKim said Southcentral Alaska, as a whole, had plenty of snow and Turnagain Pass had accumulated its normal annual footage by January. The peninsula, however, was more a mixed bag.

Ben Balk, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Anchorage, said the central Kenai Peninsula had slightly above normal snow cover, as did Seward. The lower Kenai Peninsula, however, saw snow cover ranging from 65 to 85 percent of normal.

Hal Spence can be reached at

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