As a lot of people do, I enjoy watching the myriad of shows on TV that tell some story about folks in Alaska. “Life Below Zero,” “The Edge of Alaska,” “The Last Alaskan,” “Living Alaska,” “Gold Rush,” “Building Alaska” and the “Alaskan Railroad” are a few. Yep, there are more and they all have a similar theme: It is tough to live in the 49th state.
I’m sure that’s true, but it’s not a bed of roses living in Michigan either.
One of the items always discussed on the Alaskan shows is either “it is winter” or “winter is just around the corner” and if you aren’t preparing for it, you may be in dire straits. Well, let’s just take a look at the supposed winter Alaska has. If you look at southern Alaska, Anchorage averages 74 inches of snow a year. Not 740, but 74. In comparison, Detroit averages 43 inches of snow a year. Considering how much farther north Anchorage is located, that isn’t much of a difference.
If you look near the middle of the state of Alaska you will find the city of Fairbanks. This city is the lifeblood community for many of the programs as it is a larger community with more amenities. The average snowfall in Fairbanks is 65 inches, not even twice that of Detroit. Let’s look at one of our middle of the state cities, Gaylord. Gaylord averages 149 inches of snow a year. This is more than twice that of Fairbanks that is almost always portrayed as the last piece of civilization in Alaska. It’s no wonder, with only 65 inches of snow a year. Do they ever get to ski?
In all fairness, there is a lot of country north of Fairbanks, so they must get snow, right? Sorry, not so much. Nome, Alaska always thought of as close to Santa as you will ever get, has an average annual snowfall of 76 inches of snow. With only 76 inches of snow, it‘s no wonder I have been seeing Santa in those Mercedes Benz commercials, or maybe he ought to just put wheels on his sleigh. In comparison, one of our most northern cities, Houghton, located in the U.P.’s Keweenaw County, receives an average annual snowfall of 207 inches. Even my hometown of Bessemer’s average snowfall is 188 inches. I guess that explains putting your snowsuit on before Halloween and taking it off just before the Fourth of July parade.
How about the record snowfall in Michigan? It was the winter of 1978-1979. The City of Houghton holds the record at 355.90 inches of snow. That is just less than 30 feet of snow. That’s enough to bury a 3-story building. I didn’t have to look that up. I was attending Michigan Tech as a sophomore that year. Besides the long winter months, at the heart of the season, it snowed 65 days in a row. I lived right across from campus that year and there were days when you couldn’t see across the road. Of course, classes were never cancelled and I didn’t hear anyone complaining except maybe for some students from Alaska (kidding). To most folks, it was just the way it was and it didn’t help to complain.
I guess I bring this up because of the drama that seems to always surround the narrators of these various Alaskan shows and how one wrong step could be a disaster for the cast of the show. In reality, one wrong step anywhere could be disaster, not just in Alaska. But who knows, maybe they will get some real snowfalls someday like we do in Michigan
And that’s the situation as I survey it …
After a 35-year career downstate amongst da trolls, during which he built a successful engineering and surveying business, John Matonich is back home in da U.P. His column will appear here occasionally, don’tcha know. His book “Surveyin’ Da Situation” is available on Amazon.com.
Image credit: Mélanie Plante