Leaning Trees

Leaning Trees
Leaning trees in Fairbanks, Alaska

I’ve come across a lot of drunken forests in Alaska, but something different is happening this winter. For those that don’t know, drunken forests refer to areas of collapsed or collapsing woodlands due to permafrost melt, ice wedge melt, or frost heaving beneath the surface. The result is often a random tangling of trees that seem to be falling at every angle.

Starting about a month ago, I noticed many trees along roads and power lines were taking on that “drunken” look. It was particularly noticeable with a small stand of black spruce in our yard that typically starts leaning when the snow gets heavy. Typically, they’ll lean toward the terrain (unfortunately, pointing at our power lines). This year they are leaning at all different angles, sometimes finding support against each other. It’s weird, and I haven’t seen this happen before. Surely (I hope), the permafrost hasn’t started quickly melting everywhere all at once.

There are some much more likely culprits. We’ve had close to an average amount of snowfall this year, but almost no windy days since the snow started. A lot of snow and ice has accumulated high up on the branches. Layers of frost on the branches have served as little catching mitts for snowflakes. This is particularly noticeable on the birch trees, where even the tiniest branches hold layers of snow and ice much thicker than the branch itself.

Thick layers of snow and ice weighing down the birch and spruce trees

Additionally, last year we had a bad ice/rain storm in late December, followed by two storms that dumped about 12 inches each of snow on top. We lost a lot of trees. I imagine it weakened many others.

Gorgeous snow draping everything in sight | Prints

As pretty as the snow is, it’s caused a few problems with our power. We’ve already had multiple outages lasting many hours or overnight. With more snow in the forecast, we’re likely to have more outages. I took all the photos in this post yesterday (December 13, 2022) around our yard. We haven’t had any single big snowstorms, just lots of little ones, so I was a bit surprised to see how deep the snow was. Even with snowshoes on, I was post-holing knee-to-waist deep.

Walking the power lines that run behind and along the front of our property, there were some disconcerting views. . .

Spruce tree leaning on the lines south of our property
Large spruce and birch trees leaning on the lines along the backside of our road
More spruce trees on lines
Some areas would not be ideal for someone with claustrophobia

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Luckily the lineman crews in our area are phenomenal at getting power restored. Unfortunately, seeing this many trees on the lines covering just a few acres of land, it’s hard to imagine how many problem trees are left around town. This might be the year we finally invest in a generator.

I tried to pack down our regular trails, but many sections are currently impassible. When the temperatures get a little warmer, I’ll have to head out with the chainsaw. For now, we are expected to get another few inches of snow over the next day or two, and then cold sets in with lows in the -20s and highs in the -10s Fahrenheit. We’ve only had a single day close to -20°F (-29°C) so far this year. By comparison, my first year here was 2010, when we had 15 days colder than -20°F by December 15, including 4 days dropping below -30°F and one night at -40°F. I’ve all but forgotten what it’s like to have consistent weather that cold.

Stunted black spruce forest covered in snow | Prints

If you want to see more photos from our yard on this day, check this link. I’ll probably post a few more in the coming days. Otherwise, I’ll try to get out and take some pretty photos this weekend!


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