The Great Alaskan Quake


Yesterday marked the 49th anniversary of the event that did more to form Anchorage than any other … forming it figuratively and literally.  On Good Friday, March 27th, 1964 at 5:36PM Alaska time a 9.2 Magnitude Earthquake centered in Prince William Sound shook southern Alaska for nearly three minutes.  This is remembered by a number of names, the Quake of ’64, the Portage Earthquake, the Good Friday Quake, but most call it the Great Alaskan Quake.  It is the largest earthquake in North American written history, and is only surpassed by the 1960 Valdivia, Chili earthquake in magnitude.  The quake was responsible for 143 deaths from ground fissures, collapsing structures, and tsunamis.

This earthquake was massive, and I mean Massive!!

It was centered 120 miles from Anchorage, yet the full brunt was still felt here.  The land under the city shifted and slid.  Areas around down town tried to push towards Ship Creek, pulling roads and buildings apart.  A classic scene from the quake shows Fourth Avenue & Barrow Street, where half the road is about fifteen feet below the rest of the road.

While downtown was sliding north towards Ship Creek, Government Hill was sliding south.  Still until this day, the rolls on the southern side of Government Hill shows the undulations of caused by the landslides there.  Classes let out early at the Government Hill Elementary School, and if the quake happened earlier in the day, the death toll would hit a scarey level of sadness.

If you look at the back of the picture, you will see the water tower, painted red & white checked.  Somehow that water tower stood, and still stands today just at the edge of Government hill off of Harvard and on top of Loop Road (FYI – the curling club is just below it at a patch where the landslide leveled).

Outside of town was torn apart by it too, more towards the base of the mountains towards the rivers where the land could easily shift in the went thawing ground and along the longstanding faults below.   The hamlet of Girdwood had to be moved inland by a mile or be flooded out by the tides, and the town of Portage had to be abandoned for the same reason.  Higher up the hillsides, subdivisions were ripped apart. This picture was along the Knik river.

All you have to do is Google 1964 and Earthquake, and you can see hundreds of pictures of the damage, the repair, and the history.  In modern numbers, the quake did over $900Million in damage.

With the earthquake came a devastating tsunami.  Of the 143 people killed by the effects of the earthquake, 113 was due to the Tsunami.  Some reports suggest the wave reached 200feet high and struck all down the coast of Alaska, British Columbia, Oregon, California, and Hawaii.  YES … CALIFORNIA.  Two kids playing in the ocean were tragically killed in Crescent City, CA.

Since 1964, Alaska and Anchorage specifically imposed harsher building codes for buildings and structures.  The thirteen story tower I work in is built on rollers so that it can sway with a quake rather than crumble trying to stabilize.  We run earthquake drills at work, and are encouraged to keep an earthquake kit at home.  The West Coast of North America has  tsunami warning system and Tsunami Warning Center built specific in response to this earthquake.  The city is now quake conscious and quake aware.

Probably the harshest realization about the quake came from the old Cessna head of security, Captain Ken, who told me he lived through the quake when living in Anchorage.  He said because of the quake he will never lay foot in Alaska again.  To this day, he is the only person I have met who has been through the quake, and is the only person who didn’t say they would move back to Alaska if they could.  It was the one thing that made this city unloved.

Let’s just hope the next big one holds off for more than 49 years more.


The Car Wreck that Wasn’t


There’s a special type of hell involved in winter driving in Anchorage. I’ve worked pretty hard to try to overcome it, but tonight I almost met my match. After a sketchy history in college, I haven’t been in a car wreck since 1999, and not one that has been in my hands for 18 years – that streak almost …. ALMOST … Ended tonight.

Winter time beats the heck out of the road. Of one, roads are more likely to get ruts. The road beds are pretty soft, and the heavy traffic creates nice little groves everywhere. When snow starts to fall these ruts fill nicely with ice and then cover with snow. Sometimes they don’t ice up, but ruts can still form from the buildup of snow on either side of the tire lines. If that isn’t bad enough, the snow/ice on the road with constant plowing remove the lines keeping the lanes separate. For the most part the city does a good job of clearing roads here – but that sure didn’t help me today.

I was driving home from curling, a route that takes me along a one-way three lane road (C Street for you locals). From where the curling club, the ride through downtown is extra bad as far as seeing what lanes your in. Tonight was almost a free for all. I guessed one and three others guessed differently. What should be room for four wide seemed like two groups of two. It clears up right after downtown but one car especially was way off – straddling two lanes and forcing the rest of us to maneuver around him. Actually, this guy helped me out in hindsight.

I was approaching an intersection in Midtown (C & Fireweed) pretty well in control of my speed and car, but guessing I could see a yellow light I slowed some (in this town every light is red). Wanting to not be in trouble with the guy straddling lanes, I edged myself closer to the other side to my left – across a small patch of snow and ice to another groove. While I’m not sure, I am guessing I had my foot on the brake, because nearly immediately on hitting that patch my left side (on the ice) was going faster than on my right (on pavement).

Within 10 feet my car was no longer going straight but at a 45 degree angle down C Street; and I was in trouble.

My car has a traction warning alert, as soon as it feels like the wheels aren’t turning the way they should it starts beeping.  Things happened so quickly that the alert didn’t go off until I already knew I was in trouble.  I could feel the tires bounce from going sideways, but could feel them trying to grip the road correctly. I really though the car would flip at the moment – I was sure of it, and seemed to have the time to be sure of the result.

But the tires gripped, and my momentum was no longer heading down C Street but now angled. If that guy was not straddling the lanes he would have been trying to avoid me in the right lane.  Instead there was open space for me to twist and turn until the full grip to the ground happened.

Then the next problem came, I was turning into the traffic stopped on Fireweed at the intersection and if I didn’t straighten I was heading right for the innocent motorists.  Already I was thinking how the they would react, if they would think I was driving like an idiot to hit stopped cars, even wondering where I kept my insurance information.

The tires grabbed again, and again I was lucky that those stopped at the intersection were back a good ten feet from the edge of the intersection.  Instead of aiming for the stopped cars, the was left heading towards a curb, a parking lot, and safety.  Because the snow was still piled at the curb, I bounced up it easily without bumping hard into anything.  And just enough to come to a stop.

I wasn’t hurt.  The car wasn’t hurt.  No one else was hurt.  As far as I could tell, no one even changed their driving pattern around me.  But it must have looked like a wild ride.  I was nearly sidewards, straighten out facing a bad direction, then leaped into a parking lot.  In all, the time I spent from when I touched the ice to coming to a stop is nothing more than 5 seconds.  It started just at the entrance of the intersection and ended just past it (though across two lanes and over a curb).    There was time enough for me to think through the result, at each twist I kept thinking how I was going to deal with the consequences, and even to wonder if I really could have kept this from happening.

As I was sitting in that parking lot to try to figure out what happened, I immediately started trying to process what happened – and some of the realizations made me feel good.  Things may move slow during times like that, but what wins is what your reactions and habits will do.  When the spin started to happen, I took my feet off of all the pedals like you’re supposed to.  I didn’t notice it, but I realized afterwards that I didn’t feel my anti-lock breaks (in my car, the brake pedal would have rumbled, and I didn’t feel that), and hitting the accelerator would have never allowed me to stop as fast as I did.  I also realized that the only way I could have avoided the stopped cars or hopped the curb was if I turned into the spin like your supposed to.  The turns, however, weren’t overreactions.  I didn’t over steer, just tried to maintain my direction.  Enough driver training and suggestions in winter travel tell you that when things start to slip, you have to let the wheels do their thing until they find the road – steer to hard, hit a pedal too hard, and you just make the tires want to continue to skid.  That didn’t happen, and I let the car right itself.

With the ride over, I just sat there stunned for a couple seconds.  As one car turned in front of me, two younger kids looked over my way, caught my eye, and pumped a fist … there actions meant one thing: “That was Awesome!”  Yeah … awesome … but not worth doing again.

I go to bed now after a rough day … the pup gave me a shinner tonight too, happy puppy bouncing too hard and headbutted me good.  But I will leave you with a tune – my favorite song about a car accident.

Just a Reminder, You Live in Alaska


And God Said: “Y’all obviously forgot where you live.  Well, here’s a reminder you pansies.”

As for the weathermen?  On Thursday they said, expect a couple of inches of snow over the weekend.  On Friday, they warned of high winds, blizzard conditions, six inches of snow.  By Saturday they said, forget the winds and blizzard, but you could get closer to a foot of snow.  Today they said, “did we say a foot?  We meant, a foot by Monday morning, it’s going to be more like 18 inches.”

We started getting a bit of snow on Friday night, and then … it hasn’t stopped.  It’s been a constant, not as much monstrous overwhelming blizzardy stuff, but .. just constant.  Over the weekend, we broke the calendar day records on Friday & Sunday.  What is really overwhelming about it is that it just kept getting heavier as the snows continued.  I went out yesterday morning and was surprised that I found 2 inches on the ground.  By nightfall, we got three more.  By this morning it was another 4 or 4-1/2. I swear, I had another 6 inches on my car when I left work.  For the first time since I started here, they told people to go home early due to the conditions.  A couple hours later, the snow still flies.  This isn’t just a lot of snow, but maybe the biggest snowfall of the year (only a real early storm seems to be memorable to be in the ballpark).

Poor Auggie was having a heck of a time out there, his road clearance is only about 6 inches (that’s his height from the ground to his belly … get it? :)).  He’s okay with plowing through head high snow, but two problems with it.  The snow gets in his nose and makes him sneeze, which is a full body thing for him putting him face first into the snow, which gets up into his nose, which makes him sneeze … you see the pattern?  The other problem is that when the snow is up to your belly … its not so easy to relieve yourself.

It’s snowfall that reminds me that I was going to buy a snow blower.  Shoveling this stuff was rough for this way too out of shape bear.  I didn’t touch it most the weekend, which meant the driveway was a good foot deep, and the sidewalk was downright nonsense.  The other problem with this snow is that the piles around the driveway and sidewalk has the drifts built up from five months of winter — I’m throwing a foot and a half of snow onto a pile that is nearly five feet tall.

Yes. it’s Spring.  Yes, next week is April.  Yes, I know I moved here on my own choosing.  But No … I still get to complain.


One Down …


This just in, contrary to what the calendar might tell you … it ain’t Spring yet.

Even all of you down in the Lower 48 are griping about the return of snow and cold.  This just after you Kansans were bragging about t-shirt and shorts weather last week.  Well … in your face, I never even put my warm clothes away.

The forecast for Anchorage this weekend is snow, not a lot, but enough to remind us that it’s still winter.  We had a bit of a melt the last couple of weeks, not much and not enough to say its breakup season (the time when everything melts including the frozen rivers … that ‘breakup’ to start flowing).  It does feel like a chilly cold snow.  Not the kind that feels very good to wander around in.  Even the curling club felt cold last night.

So this is more of an “indoor” weekend.  That could be my excuse to watch lots of basketball, the start of the Aussie Rules Football season, and hockey … but I’ll take that excuse.  There’s a dog show in town too, so I’ll sneak off to that.  But I’m focus on getting big movement on the spare bedroom (aka .. the Brad Barnes Throwdown Emporium), which was slowed by pain that didn’t want to get it’s work done in two coats.

Spring is coming near an end though.  Someone told me earlier in the week, before this forecast came out, that we can expect at least two more snows before breakup.  I came back on Thursday and said “You said, we only have two more.  Well … One Down, One to Go!”

Loose Ends


I have a few loose ends from recent posts that I owe you (at least in my mind I owe you).

First of all, some news — An inspection was completed last Friday on my house in Wichita, and it came back with only minor issues.  I asked for more when buying the house in Anchorage than they asked for, so things are looking really good for that deal to go through.  Closing will happen in mid-April.

Second, I got asked about something I mentioned when I went to the slope last week.  I talked about a “Sun Dog”, which is sort of like a reverse rainbow caused by ice crystals.  The picture below is the closest to what I saw, including the circle around it and the vitural sunlight pouring out the bottom:


Finally, the Iditarod finished up last night.  I posted on Tuesday that they had a winner, but the race continued until the last team either dropped out or crossed the finish line.  The last to finish in 54th place was Christine Roalofs who came in Sunday Afternoon and recieved the “Red Latern” given cerimonially to honor those who ensured the trial was empty and all are in.

But the Iditarod did end with a tragedy.  For the first time in a few years, a dog passed away during the race but sadly due to an unfortunate incident not due to a race inflicted injury.  Dogs are routinely dropped from the race when they start showing signs of tiring, joint trouble, or fatigue.  Race volunteers maintain the dropped dogs at key checkpoints.  Because the dogs are most comfortable bedded down on straw outdoors, the dropped dogs at one checkpoint were bedded down tethered to a fence.  Over a four hour period between volunteer checks during the overnight, high winds and snow caused a drift to accumulate at one of the fences – in this case deep enough to complete envelop the tethered dog causing it to suffocate under the snow.  It was a horrible mistake by unpaid volunteers that the race officials were quick to take the blame for, and from all accounts will be learned from.

But rather than leaving you on a down note, here’s a picture of Daddy’s little couch potato focused on the rugby game on the TV.


Irish Emerald Skies


Happy St. Patrick’s Day everyone.  Like many of you today (and this whole weekend), I will be celebrating it by faking Irish heritage by perpetuating negative stereotypes.  Yep, I’m going to drink beer.  I’m not going to drink the green beer … why waste a near perfect beverage by putting food coloring in it makes no sense to me; unless its the big brand crappy beer, you can’t mess that up anymore more.

There isn’t anything too utterly special going on today around Anchorage.  Many of the bars and pubs have been celebrating all weekend with specials, ugly hats, and generally bad reasons to get people to over indulge.  When I lived in Milwaukee years ago, I had a personal rule to stay home to hide from the “Rookie Night Drinkers”.  I do feel a bit obligated, since my most common hangout is an Irish Bar if I get out once it should be today.  They have Traditional Irish Music (which they usually get some real good bands playing anyway).  Much of the festivities is outdoors, and a cold blow came in, so its 7°F, so ……

There was a detail that did give Anchorage a bit more of the Irish flare last night.

Yep … just one little detail.

Ok, it wasn’t all that little.

Last night, the sky turned Emerald Green.

Since the idea to move to Alaska popped in my head, the one thing I couldn’t wait for was a chance to see the Aurora Borealis, the light effect caused by solar charged particles bouncing off the stratosphere.  I saw it a few times when I was in College in Michigan’s UP, and couple other possible times as well – but I knew my chances to see it would be way up here.  It’s actually uncommon for Anchorage to have the Aurora; it stays further to the north and you have to get lucky with cloud coverage.  I joined a website that is supposed to alert us if there is aurora activity but I noticed they tend to be a day late and a dollar short.  Since moving here, I believe I’ve seen it a couple times, maybe a third – the best being a single wave over the mountains to the east.

Yesterday, I was continuing my bad trend of lazy Saturdays.  Curled Friday night late, spent the morning with the pup, making the need for an afternoon nap — which of course leaves me too tired to do anything Saturday, and not tired enough to fall asleep until past midnight.  When I decided to go to bed, I thought to let the pup cuddle up with me – but that meant letting Auggie out to do some business.

Awaiting for us was a ribbon of an aurora that went from east to west, horizon to horizon.  I ran right overhead, and took up a third to a half of the sky.  Sometimes the aurora can be multi colored, but last night it was a brilliant emerald green.  It shifted, it moved, it danced.  It looked like the sky was enchanted by the spirits of St Patrick itself.  The Aurora shined so bright I thought it might leave a shadow.

I wanted to spend as long as possible watching it, but in minutes it started getting too cold for the pooch (and me) plus the neighbor’s lights came on like wondering what someone was standing outside for at 1am.  I stood at my window for a while longer with Auggie falling asleep on my shoulder until a little bit of haze made the show fuzzy but that was enough for now.  I saw it, and it was huge.

So, in your cities that paint the streets green, or color the rivers green, enjoy.  Here – the skies are green, and we didn’t even have to lift a finger.

Spring Break on the Beaufort Sea


While co-eds and college goers are running down to the beaches where it’s warm, I’m on a 2 day hitch on the coast of a different ocean.  I am up on the slope again today.  A couple of days in Prudhoe Bay means once again I hang out 250 miles north of the Arctic Circle where the largest oil field in North America works through the normal -10°F temperatures and wind chills down to -40°F.  The weather is standard for this time of year, and they actually just came off of a warm spell (rising to +10° of Tuesday … and that is a “Positive” plus sign).  This is my fourth trip to the slope, following nearly the same pattern as my last trip just two weeks ago, but things broke from the routine some this time around.

For starters, one of my meetings was on a man-made island in the Beaufort Sea at the end of a couple mile long road/bridge.  The Beaufort Sea lies north of Alaska and is a part of the Arctic Ocean … so quite literally, I was riding in a truck over the Arctic Ocean – and while I rather dip my foot into it like the others, it means I now been to all four oceans of the world (thank you Singapore for counting two oceans on one beach).  Of course, being March during a winter that practically never ends, all that was there was wide open nothing with snow drifts lapping like waves over the ice.  I wish I could say that it was something poetic or majestic, but I can’t.  It seemed like any number of a hundred pictures or movies of polar expeditions – all you can see for miles is snow, ice, sky, and nothing.  It didn’t look majestic, it looked hopeless.

On the way out there, I did see an Arctic Fox – the first sign of anything living that wasn’t bundled in heavy jackets and boots.  It pranced along the side of the road angling to cross behind us without getting hit.  Many animals either bed down or head south towards more protection for the winter, but now that summer is coming life is returning.  Polar Bears are expected to start moving around up here, and that means caribou & reindeer may not be far away either. 

The big difference about this trip is what went from not seeing much of to seeing a lot of.  The Sun.  Being 650 miles further north of Anchorage, Prudhoe Bay sees a far greater swing in daylight than we do in town.  That was noticeable in December when the sun never came up and barely lit the skies.  With the equinox not far away, we all are about 12 hours of sunup.  The added bonus was clear skies for the first time on any of my trips, so this was the first trip that I really could see what this place looks like in the daytime.  To be honest .. not much different; well, except for the sun dogs.  The conditions up here play funny tricks with the light.  Something I saw on an earlier trip, but seemed to jump out with the sun in the air.  The cold dry air turns whatever moisture around into ice crystals, depending on the temperature, wind speeds, and air pressure; the crystals can either be like a fog or a haze.  High enough, the sun deflects light off of the crystals – sometimes causing a ring to form around the sun, and like yesterday sometimes making it look like sunshine is pouring from the bottom of the sun to the horizon.  This is what’s called a Sun Dog, and is oddly uncomfortable.  Locals know that a sun dog means a blow is probably coming; but to me it seems like a natural warning – that this place is not normal for humans, other wise we would see it where it’s warm. 

In a couple of hours, I climb back on the plane for somewhere warmer  … Anchorage, AK, where snow is melting.  My next trip back is far enough away that I have no plans to do it.  But just like the other tips up here, I keep finding Prudhoe Bay to always want to prove how incredibly unique it is.

Mitch is a Winner


Last night at a little before 11PM, the Last Great Race announced a winner.  The 1000 mile dog sled race across Alaska known as Iditarod was won by Mitch Seavey (no relation).  This was the second win for Mitch (no relation) who last won in 2004.  Mitch (no relation) also became the oldest winner of the race at the ripe old age of 53.  Ironically, the youngest winner of the race is his son, Dallas Seavey, who won last year  – and thus becoming the first time two members of immediate family won consecutive years (not the first set of immediate family, that would be the three different Mackeys who won a total of 6 times).

From this rookie spectator, the race was crazy interesting. I signed myself up for the insider that let me track the GPS progress including temperatures and elevations and emails whenever someone hit a checkpoint that I cared about.  Except for the fact I was way too tired to stay up to see the winner cross the line, I watched it pretty consistently.

It started with a bold move with two teams led by Martin Buser running the first 188 miles without much of a stop, then taking breaks earlier than the traditional places.  Then Lance Mackey made the push while Martin was resting to get to the halfway point first, knowing his younger team probably wouldn’t have the legs to go that pace through to the end.  Once Martin finished resting he pushed hard to the be the first to the Yukon (600+ miles in and leading to the most brutal part of the race).  At that point, the race was a good 30 minutes ahead of record pace, and many thought the race was pretty much over.  Meanwhile, many teams were pacing themselves on the first half, some saving dogs, some resting short, some resting long.

The race turned on its ears on the Yukon.  Teams faced heavy snow effected by warmer weather, leaving unstable ground.  The thing about dog racing is that they don’t clear much of a path for the team.  In some cases, stopping may cause the musher to step off into drifts up to their hips, the only savior is to skate along on top of the snow.  Except with the warmer weather, the reports were it was like mushing through mashed potatoes.  That “30 minutes ahead of the faster ever time” actually became 12 hours behind the fastest time ever.  The six hour lead Martin Buser had going into the Yukon was eaten up by the time they left the river a couple hundred miles later.  The late front runner was Aliy Zirkle, who’s strategy was to limit her dogs to running a specific time resting for a specific time, and moving like that regardless of where the checkpoints were.  It worked for her last year when she came in second, and it appeared to work for her this year.  In the end Mitch Seavey (no relation) used a strategy of taking it slow early, resting at traditional locations, and saving the dog’s legs for the flats.  He took the lead with over 100 miles to go, Aliy closed the gap at one point in the hills outside of White Mountain to one mile or about 7 minutes; but when things flattened out along the coast towards Nome – the lead just kept growing.  In the end Mitch (no relation) won by 23 minutes.

So that ends the dog race for this year.  Time to live vicarious through Auggie and race him around the backyard.  The next big thing to look forward too is breakup, then spring, then summer.

Daylight Saved


For all of you who aren’t a random European, Canadian, or Mexican you know that USA were thrust into Daylight Savings yesterday whether we liked it or not.  In South Anchorage, we were rewarded for getting up an hour earlier by having to shovel four inches of snow on Sunday, and having to drag our tails into work on Monday.  But before we had too long to complain, a real prize showed itself.

Today in Anchorage, the sun was out all day, and by all day I mean … ALL DAY.

I’ve been getting used to seeing daylight on the way to work, and its been up well past the time I got home; but between the cloudless skies and the new time zone we got a wake-up call on how much daylight we have.  Officially, the came up at 8:28am today, and went down at 7:52pm.  That’s 11 hours 24 minutes of sun-up.  Of course it was light before and after — in fact when I started this post tonight at 9pm, there was still light in the sky.

In just a little over two months, we’ve gained 6 hours of daylight.  It’s been a little under 6 minutes a day we’ve been gaining, but today it was sort of like … TaDa … Summer’s coming.

Just means I need to get to bed early too … because it takes the body way too long to shift one hour, and will be a busy week with a couple days on the slope and eagerly waiting the end of the Iditarod.  So, now the sun’s down … nightly night.


Breakup Tease


No … “Breakup Tease” isn’t some relationship twist from some TV Show.  It’s something far more, well … typical that you would find on my blogs.  It’s about the weather.

Breakup is the term used for the spring thaw.  I guess it happens over a short period of time (few days to a couple weeks) and is named for the way river and inlet ice get thin enough that they break apart and move away.

I was hoping to be able to tell you more about that today.  The way all the cars turn salty brown.  The way puddles sit everywhere.  The way the first glimpses of ground start showing up.  The last couple of days, we hadn’t had a minute where the temperature got below freezing.  You could see the potholes in the road, not just ice covered pavement.  You could walk a sidewalk, not tromp through a mess.  A couple of us were rushing to get down with our winter fun, because it really felt like breakup was coming.

But what was coming was today.

My count is that we got about 5 inches of wet heavy snow today.  Great for shoveling, great for snowball fights with a confused dog, but definitely not breakup weather.  Thrust back into a winter wonderland, we did what we keep doing – keep bundled up, keep shoveling the decks & driveways, and keep on keeping on.