Alaskan winters can be very long, dark and extremely cold. Once the holidays are over and February comes around, Alaskans are extremely tired, weary and ready for our winter to end and our long, endless summer days to begin. When April arrives we are all excited for spring, however Alaskans call spring, “The Breakup”.
The Breakup is when Alaskans finally call it off with their long time boyfriend, “Old Man Winter”. Ha! Not really, but when I first heard the term, “breakup” that is what I thought of. The Breakup is a muddy and yucky mess. I never thought I would love mud so much until we moved to Alaska. The mud means the snow is breaking up and melting!
The Breakup process can still last a good 4-6 weeks, so Alaskans set little milestones to help entertain ourselves while the time goes by. Below are a few of those milestones.
The Nenana Ice Classic
In 1917 the surveyors for the Alaska Railroad wagered with each other as to when the ice on the Tanana River would breakup. The jackpot that first year was $800. At first it was limited to Nenana residents, but after years of it catching on, tickets are now sold all throughout Alaska. Tickets cost $2.50 a guess.
During the first weekend of March a large 26 foot tall four legged “Tripod” is set up on the river ice and it is tethered to a clock on shore, so that the tripwire will signal when the Tripod has moved down river 100 feet, determining the exact minute of the breakup. Ticket holders that have guessed the closest to the exact month, day, hour and minute win the jackpot.
This year the ice is already looking quite watery and the Tripod is already tipping to one side. We have experienced a very warm April this year and because of that I think we will be breaking the earliest record this year. The earliest the Tripod has gone down was on April 20th in the years 1940 and 1998, the latest it has gone down was May 20th in the years 1964 and 2013.
We have not entered any tickets into The Ice Classic yet, maybe next year we will remember to try it. So I will enter my “unofficial” guess here and we will see how close I am when the Tripod trips the clock.
My “Unofficial” guess: April 17 at 3:26pm
Update: The Tripod fell and tripped the clock at the earliest date since the contest started in 1917. April 14th, at 12:21 am.
First reindeer calf born at UAF
The arrival of the first reindeer calf at the farm is a rite of spring. The first calf usually arrives in early April. Last year the first calf arrived on April 17th and we still had a lot of snow at that time. This year the snow is melted and the pastures are nice and muddy.
A tradition that follows the arrival of the first calf is that local schoolchildren are encouraged to submit names for the calves, which are named in July or August, after they are weaned. Children may submit names on the Reindeer Research Program website. Names in previous years have included Olivia, Rosemary, Sebastian, Blaze, Fireweed, Mr. Antlers, Tater Tot, Boris, Mabel and Fuzzball.
My “Unofficial” guess: April 18th and my reindeer name choice is: Mojave
Update: the first two calves were born on April 12th!
Baby reindeer that were born in the spring of last year (2018)
First goose to arrive at Creamer’s Field
Early Bird gets the record! Creamer’s Field is a 2,200 acre Migratory Waterfowl Refuge and the first Canada goose of spring was spotted there in Fairbanks on March 30th. That’s 3 days earlier than the previous early bird record.
In previous years many local pranksters find it humorous to go out and place a goose decoy out in the field and chuckle at all the people that flock to see the first arrival. After staring at a bird that hasn’t moved in over 10 minutes, they are bummed they have been fooled yet again.
But this arrival was not a hoax as many people witnessed the solo goose fly in from the east and touch down in the field. This is rare because many of the geese arrive in small groups together. After the geese arrive, we countdown the days of the Trumpeter Swans arriving.
The Green Up
Spring appears to have arrived early in the interior of Alaska, so that means it is time to guess when tree leaves will open and begin to turn the hillsides green.
“Green Up” is defined as the first day to have leaf buds in birch and aspen open just enough to make a faint but green flush throughout the forest canopy.
The tradition of guessing the date of the Green Up began in 1974, when professors at the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus looked out on the eastern side of Chena Ridge and saw the first hint of green. At that time the National Weather Service began keeping track. It is now an annual guessing game and fundraiser.
It happens very fast. Our first year living here, I was driving the kids to school in the morning and everything was still brown and dead. I came home and when I left to go pick the kids up from school, I saw the green on the hills.
My “Unofficial” guess for the Green Up is: May 2nd
The Light Returns
We have come out of the darkness of winter, and everyone is ready to see the light! Our days begin to get much longer than any of the Lower 48 states as early as late March. Today on April 13th our twilight begins at 5:22 am and ends at 10:17 pm. Over the next week we will slowly be adding more minutes to each day with a total of almost an hour gained by this time next week. It will continue to grow until Summer Solstice which is on June 21st. On that day the sun will rise at 3:07 am and set just after midnight at 12:35 am.
The start of our long summer days lend to having so much more time to enjoy our beautiful warm summers. Which after coming out of the dark winters, the light cannot return fast enough!
If you would like to see when the sun rises and sets on any given day in Alaska you can visit this Alaska Daylight Calculator.
Other random things we think up to entertain ourselves
The most recent thing that has garnered quite the following on facebook is a couch that had made it's way to the side of the highway during the winter months.
I will agree with most people on this topic, the couch should have been taken care of and not left there. However the winter months do make it hard and even dangerous to have clean up efforts, especially on the side of a busy highway.
As the snow started to melt the couch put on a show for all those who passed by. I created a game with my kids around the couch and it made me chuckle to find the famous couch on facebook and seeing people comment and playing the same game as well. We titled it "The Great Couch Drop".
When we would pass the couch everyday, the kids and I would look to see
if it was still up. Sometimes Alaskans need these little everyday humorous things to help the long never ending winters go by. We learn to find humor and joy in the little things in life; including a brown couch surfing on a snow wave on the side of the road.
Before "The Breakup" is officially done and we're in the clear, we always wake up to a few more surprises though!
Stay strong Alaskans! It will be over soon!
I am a 30 something year old single mom of two. I have a 16 year old son and an 14 year old daughter. They are keeping me busy and on my toes in this new phase I call "Teenagedom".
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