In the interior of Alaska, the summers can get stifling hot. It is hard for people to believe that 80+ temperatures are not uncommon and if the weather conditions are just right, it can reach a hundred.
This summer had been one that the weather conditions were just right. In the days leading up to the Fourth of July, the thermometer increased in increments until it rested pretty solidly at 95º. And since the sun is up for nearly 23 hours and there was no wind, the nights didn’t cool down that much.
In Central, Fourth of July is celebrated with a parade and a follow up community barbecue. Members of the 4H Club, of which I was one, often walked at the front of the parade carrying flags. This year I carried the Alaskan Flag.
The temperature rose as the sun beat down and the wind refused to blow. It was so hot that even the pesky mosquitos stuck to what little shade they could find under the shriveled, drought plagued trees.
The parade route was about a mile long and there was no shade. My friend carrying the 4H flag nearly passed out and one of the other kids had to finish the parade in his place. I too felt wobbly at times, but one of our other friends not in the parade ended up walking alongside with her water bottle and would squirt water into our mouth and over our heads before running off to get more.
Officially, the temperature reached 99º, but in the sun, it topped 120º and one guy was even partially successful in frying an egg on the road.
Crooked Creek which runs through the middle of Central became the hang out spot as people waded into the chilly creek that stayed around 40º, though slow moving water and pools were much warmer.
Sun baked and exhausted, I climbed into bed with only a sheet. My window was open, hoping for a cross breeze, but there was not wind outside and I found no relief inside.
No one in Central has air conditioning, we build our houses for the cold, so we all sweated and cursed the heat until, if we were lucky, we passed out.
I finally did and I slept in fits, imagining the snows of winter and building snowmen. So it was no surprise that when I woke up early in the morning, freeing, I was sure I was still dreaming. This was only reaffirmed by the big flakes of snow streaming past my window.
I closed my eyes and willed myself to warm up, or in the least, wake up. After a few minutes of shivering, I rolled over and closed my window since I didn’t need to freeze in my sleep.
I finally convinced myself that I wasn’t dreaming and got up. It was still warm enough that the snow melted almost instantly, but it was in fact, snowing. In July. Less than 12 hours from being a 100º!
It stopped spitting snow about thirty minutes after it started and the sky cleared up by mid morning with the temperature getting up into the low 80s.
The weather news channel we received on our one t.v. station reported on the phenomenon and explained that winds from the Bering Sea had been pushing up the Yukon Valley trapping the hot air there like a convection oven. As the lower level of air heated, it slowly pushed against the upper layer of air until it reached a point that it could escape over the mountains. This formed a siphoning effect that pulled a large amount of air out which was replaced by air from the north that pulled down the cold Arctic air.
This allowed for a short window of great moisture, cold air, and snow on the Fifth of July.