December 2, 2023

Unusual Winter Conditions lead to seldom seen River Ice Formation

Seldom seen River Ice Formation at 0 degrees Celsius, looking upriver. Click for closeup view.

You can believe it when I tell you it’s a real strange situation around here to see unusual winter conditions lead to seldom seen river ice formation on  the short waterway connecting  two of our local lakes.

I know, I know – you’re looking at the pictures that accompany this post and asking yourself, “What in the heck is he talking about? That looks like pretty normal ice to me!” And as far as that goes you’d be right – it is pretty normal looking ice.

I mean, we do live in the land of winter snow and ice here so you’d not only expect to see this kind of thing in any given winter, but you’d also expect it to be considered as kind of normal around here, right?

Well what’s not normal about it at all though is that those pictures were shot when the air temperature outside was a warm and balmy 0 degrees Centigrade – just at the freezing level.

That makes what you’re seeing extremely unusual and highly notable because this short river carries a pretty good current along in its flow – more than fast enough to prevent this river from ever icing over like this at temperatures much warmer than -20 C. below. Any less, and that current always rips the ice apart and sends it floating downriver.

And to deepen the mystery and the wonder of it just a little more, average overnight and day temperatures in the week preceding these photos hadn’t really come anywhere too close to that -20 level normally considered necessary to make it freeze at all.

The other unusual factor at play here too is the smoothness of that ice as you see it in the pictures. Normally that same current running through here causes a buildup of very uneven and rough looking surface ice, but there’s very little of that visible here.

Another shot upriver taken from further along car bridge

So what you’re seeing here today may very well be either historical photos of a kind seldom seen before, or at the very least ones that you’ll not see again for a very long time indeed.

River ice formation at 0 degrees Celsius, looking downstream from opposite side of car bridge

The next question you’re likely considering in the back of your mind is, “How do we know he’s not pulling our leg with the facts in his story, or maybe even trying to pull a piece of that infamous Yukon storytelling-wool over our eyes?”

Hmmm…you could take my word for it of course…or failing that maybe try a little Carcross Yukon weather research to confirm what the air temperatures were here on and before Wednesday, January 11, 2012, the date these pictures were taken.

As part of that research you might even discover the key to the mystery itself which was the cold wind blowing hard over both land and the waters of this river, causing it to smoothly freeze over like this in conjunction with ambient air temperatures that normally couldn’t have done the job on their own.

We call it ‘wind chill’ and believe me when I say it can carry a bite to it, in this case enough of a bite that unusual winter conditions lead to seldom seen river ice formation on a river that otherwise would simply have stayed in its normally fluid state – and did return to that state again the very next day.

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