Alaskan Weather is a Fickle Thing

DENALI, ALASKA- The weather in Alaska is a fickle thing. Obviously, I’ve only been exposed to the summer climate, meaning that I really have no understanding just how fickle it can get, but as the old saying goes, when you visit Denali you should be prepared to encounter all four seasons in a single day. It’s an adage that is worth taking note of when packing for a trip.

 Snowing…in September.

Snowing…in September.

 

One day might bring endless sunshine—quite literally, since the sun never really goes away. The sky is a bright cerulean blue, and you can feel the UV rays burning into your exposed skin, stronger and more radiant than anywhere else I’ve ever been. Yet the air will still be thin, and have a healthy chill to it. A breeze means cool air rustling through your hair; rarely does wind equal the onset of warmth. Clouds can dot the horizon, but find themselves scarce above your head, making for a stunning summer day that you cannot find anywhere else. The combination of autumnal crispness and summer sun makes for a pleasant experience.

 

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Yet you might go to bed and wake up to driving rain, with a distinct chill in the air. Stepping outside, you find that the weather has turned, and referring to the day as having a distinct chill is something of an understatement. Wearing shorts on a day like this is out of the question, and you better make sure that you have a rain jacket handy. The clouds hover low in the sky in a single, formless coat, giving the day a dreary, gray overtone that influences the moods of everyone. The rain is cold and unwelcome, and your ability—or drive—to engage in any outdoor activity is mitigated by your desire to stay inside and read a book.

 

Of course, you might hop in the van and drive down the Parks Highway, and quickly find that this dreary, crappy, rainy day is only found in the small microclimate found around Creekside. A few miles up the road, blue sky is visible and you might need sunglasses. Peering in the rearview mirror, you can see the clouds hanging low in the sky, penned in by the surrounding mountains…a poor weather day, but a poor weather day for only those at Creekside. Alaskan weather is a fickle thing.

 

Then of course, there are the mornings where you wake up to a brisk chill (notice a common factor in the summer weather?), and take note that the tops of the mountains are sprinkled with powdery white stuff…yes, it's what you think it is. It’s fascinating to take note of the snowline, since there is clearly a uniform altitude at which the snow...thrives. From Cleft Mountain, to Carlo Mountain, to Panorama Mountain and beyond, all are lined with the same horizontal cutoff of glistening white brilliance. Snow is always in the cards in Denali.

 

 Snow-capped mountains around Denali NP

Snow-capped mountains around Denali NP

 

So, what does this mean for someone living in Alaska? Well, sometimes you need to be comfortable with the fact that it’s going to be a poor weather day, and you won’t be doing anything outside. This can persist for weeks at a time, with no hint of respite. Sure, you might get used to it—but that doesn’t mean you enjoy it. No one likes rain all the time.

 

It also means that you quickly learn to dress in layers or pack extra clothes. It becomes quite uncomfortable to be stuck in the “elements” without proper protection—a fleece will quickly become your best friend.

 

 Rainbows!….two of them.

Rainbows!….two of them.

 

Yet above all else, you need to simply ignore what the weather is doing and not let it interfere with your plans. Sure, camping on a particularly rainy day might not be preferable, and you’ll have to readjust, perhaps going on a rafting trip, where you are already at the mercy of water. You might not do specific things because of the weather, but I quickly found out that you have to do something, since otherwise you will quickly find yourself unoccupied. There isn't that much to do indoors here that one would consider a worthwhile use of their time. Alaskan weather is a fickle thing, and you have to learn to adapt to it.