WRAL WeatherCenter Blog

A brief escape from heat

Posted June 23, 2014
Updated June 24, 2014

One of sixteen tidewater glaciers we passed in College Fjord, AK. Several are active and flowing, as evidenced by the small pieces of "calved" ice floating in the water.

That's what my wife Sandy and I managed when we took a long-awaited trip to Alaska by way of air and sea. In addition to the usual treats of a trip to that area (whales, eagles, dolphins, beautiful scenery and the like), it was a chance to go backward a couple of months in a climatological sense, and spend a few days wearing coats, sweatshirts and more to keep warm.

While it wasn't uniformly cold along our path, which wound along the inside passage from Vancouver, BC to Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, Haines, the Gulf of Alaska, Whittier and Anchorage, we did have days with lows in the mid 40s and highs around 50. We were very lucky in Vancouver and Ketchikan, where we enjoyed sunshine and highs around 65 degrees. The locals were quick to point out the magnitude of our luck - the average annual liquid precipitation equivalent for the Ketchikan area is 152 inches, with measurable rain averaging 228 days per year (compare that to Raleigh at 43 inches and 111 days). It hadn't rained in about a week, so they were right!

It did rain parts of the next several days, but we were quite lucky that amidst rainy and chilly periods, we got breaks in the rain and even some breaks in the clouds while out on whale-watching and rafting trips. While passing by some tidewater glaciers in College Fjord a day or two later, there were a few bright breaks, but also some light rain showers that drove temperatures down near 40 degrees, and in one or two of those I got to experience a brief bit of June snow mixed in with the rain! While that was going on, here in Raleigh the low was 68 and the high 94.

A couple of other interesting tidbits on heading that far north. Sunset and sunrise times became really compressed due to reaching latitudes exceeding 60 degrees north as we also moved closer in time to the summer solstice. Depending on our position within the Alaska Daylight time zone, we had some sunrises as early as about 3:45 AM, and sunsets as late as around 11:20 PM. Around that time, sunrise and sunset here was just before 6 AM and around 8:30 PM. We were thankful for thick window coverings at "night!"

I've included a few select photos from the trip, and the last one bears a bit of light comment from a meteorological standpoint. On the waterfront in Vancouver we came upon a sculpture called "The Drop," which pays homage to the importance of water in our lives and was intended to depict a gentle falling raindrop. As you can see in the picture, it is an exaggerated, long version of the classic "teardrop/raindrop" shape. As some of you may know, however, this is not at all what falling raindrops really look like. Due to surface tension in small droplets (mist, drizzle, light rain), they fall as spheres, while the impact of air resistance leads larger drops to become flattened on the bottom, often described as a "hamburger bun" shape, as shown in the final photo. We tend to think of the classic teardrop shape due to the way drops appear just before they drip off an object, or the way they sometimes look flowing down a window, but they are very different when free-falling through the air (when they become really large, they can briefly take on almost a parachute shape before breaking into smaller droplets).

Within a week of returning to Raleigh, we had to get accustomed to mid and upper 90s (with humidity) again, quite the transition. Given all our years in the area, though, it quickly seemed like "back to normal" for home.


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  • TarHeelBrit Jun 23, 2014

    Alaska is a beautiful state no matter what the time of year. I lived there for 10 years and want to go back there. Alaska touches your soul and calls you back.

  • jeanrichardson Jun 23, 2014

    So happy for you and your wife. I have always wanted to visit Alaska!! I love snow!

  • oakcitynative Jun 23, 2014

    Wow I'm jealous! Alaska is on my bucket list. You weather folks at WRAL are just beyond cool. :)

  • Mike Moss Jun 23, 2014

    Smurph, It was really nice - we already want to plan another visit! We did see quite a number of humpback whales, including a couple that did a nice "fluke slap" for us, a pod of orcas (at some distance abeam the ship) and a couple of very entertaining visits from groups of Dall's porpoise, which were really fun to watch - their speed and agility was just amazing.

  • Debbie Murphy Jun 23, 2014
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    Nice pics and sounds like an awesome trip! Any whale sightings and what kind??