Friday, December 2, 2011

Whittier Snow in Wasilla

Judy and I lived in Whittier for seven years, where she taught school and I ran the boat harbor, charter boats and my own fishing boat. 

We lived there during what was perhaps its Golden Age.  When we moved to Whittier from Cordova in 1976, Begich Towers had just been remodeled, after its intense Good Friday Earthquake damage.  The harbor, built in 1973, was fairly new, and a window out onto western Prince William Sound.  A lot of young people lived there then, working for the Alaska Railroad, Crowley Maritime, the local stores and bars, and for the City of Whittier.

We owned a sailboat, my gillnet boats, and a 14-foot Boston Whaler.  Thousands of free hours were spent out on some of most glorious water on this planet. And exploring the lands above them on hikes and ski trips.

A lot of commercial ideas that later became the town's small business backbone didn't yet exist in 1976.  There were virtually no fishing charters out of Whittier.  The kayaking shuttles were only an idea proposed from time to time.  Only two boats fished out of Whittier in the winter in 1976.  They were the first of the pot shrimp fleet, whose rapid rise in the 1980s and early 90s over-fished the area.

When the harbor expansion was complete in October 1981, my idea of a facility that catered evenly to commercial fishing boats, charter vessels and Anchorage residents with recreational vessels had won out against the powerful Anchorage-based interests who had tried to shape a design that would focus on the wants and needs of the Anchorage doctors, dentists, attorneys, politicians, realtors and developers who called the Whittier Harbor "theirs."

Part of the reason I wasn't enthusiastic about building what PWS residents called "a bigger puker (at that time, "puker" was a derisive term for recreational boats and yachts, as opposed to commercial fishing boats) harbor," rather than one more centered on commercial development, was that the Anchorage recreational boat owners were so pathetic when it came to taking care of their boats in the Winter.

I held "winterization seminars" every September.  The basic recommendation was for people to get their boats out of the water and on to dry land if they weren't going to actively use them through the winter. 


In Whittier (or Valdez or Seward) it can snow so hard that it accumulates at a rate of a foot per hour.  On 4 and 5 February, 1955, it accumulated 145 inches of snow there in 24 hours.

The snow is often very, very wet and heavy.  It can sink an unattended boat in a matter of minutes.  Often, during winter snow storms, the snow will start falling with no wind, at about 30 degrees F.  As the storm develops, it warms.  The wind comes up.  Soon it reaches 35 degrees, and rain mixes with snow.  Because of the wind, the new, wet snow accumulates on only the windward side of the vessel, making capsizing as big a problem as sinking from topside weight alone.

I loved running that harbor and fighting for its expansion.  But I was blissful, after moving on, that I no longer had to fight those storms so hard, mostly to protect "puker boats" that should have been in storage on the beach anyway.

Since moving to the Valley in 1983, we've probably seen less than one snow storm every five years that has been as wet and messy as those we saw almost every winter month in Whittier. 

Yesterday it looked like we were going to have one.  And then again Friday morning.  Early this morning, we got about four inches of concrete-like wet snow in 30 minutes.  Then it stopped.

But the eight inches or so of glumpy, clumpy snow we did get took me several hours to move out of the way today.

Good exercise.  Hopefully, that's it for this year for such wet snow.


HarpboyAK said...

Sorry, Phil, but the Weather Service says that this La Nina winter will dump a lot more wet snow!

We had a bunch of it here in Your Fair Capital City, too. I hire out myself and my snowblower, and when it gets like this, I get plenty of exercise.

Folks who think running a snowblower isn't work have never tried to clear a foot of wet close-to-slush from several hundred feet of sidewalk!

Philip Munger said...


you're probably right about a lot of wet snow on its way. I'm thinking of taking my old, tracked snowblower out of storage, and having it get rebuilt. It was a lot better at eating slush than the newer one I got four years ago.