Monday, January 30, 2006

Mt. Augustine Continues in Eruption...

-5 degrees
Clear skies, calm winds

Monday, January 30, 2006 9:15 AM AKST (1815 UTC)

Current Level of Concern Color Code: RED

Augustine volcano has been in a state of continuous eruption since 14:30 AKST (2330 UTC) January 28. Overflight observations on January 29 suggest that pyroclastic flows are being produced. Larger seismic signals were detected at 11:17 AKST (2017 UTC) on January 29, and 03:25 AKST (1225 UTC) and 06:21 AKST (1521 UTC) on January 30. National Weather Service radar indicates that ash clouds from these events rose to 25,000 feet above sea level. In general, other than during these three events, an ash-rich plume is rising to about 14,000 feet above sea level.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

-10 degrees
High, scattered clouds, calm winds
14 inches of snow on the ground.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Zero degrees
Southwest winds at fifteen kts
4-5 inches of fresh snow, about a foot on the ground

The volcano is erupting again. It started off about an hour or so before I got off work last night. My first inkling was a Volcanic Ash Advisory that came over the fax machine right at quitting time. The winds aloft are steering the ash to the southeast, toward Kodiak. Any ash that might drift in our direction would be hidden by the large amounts of dry snow that have been falling since last night. I can't say for certain but suspect much of the moisture that has been falling as snow had its originis as volcanic steam.

Saturday, January 28, 2006 8:55 AM AKST (1755 UTC)

59.3633°N 153.4333°W, Summit Elevation 4134 ft (1260 m)
Current Level of Concern Color Code: RED

Four explosive eruptions have occurred in the last 12 hours. The first began at 20:24 AKST 27 January (0524 UTC 28 January) and had a total duration of 9 minutes. According to the National Weather Service (NWS), an ash cloud reached a maximum height of around 30,000 feet above sea level (asl) and drifted southeast. The second occurred at 23:37 AKST 27 January (0837 UTC 28 January) and had a duration of 1 minute. No ash was detected above 10,000 feet after this event. The third occurred at 02:04 AKST (1104 UTC) 28 January and had a duration of 2 minutes. Ash drifted SE at a height of up to 26,000 feet (NWS). The fourth occurred at 07:42 AKST (1642 UTC) 28 January and had a duration of 3 minutes. The ash cloud drifted SE at a maximum height of 25,000 feet (NWS). Ashfall advisories are issued by NWS and the most up to date information can be found at

Yesterday marked a month since we had to have Fat Sally put to sleep. I'm still real sad about that, though I tell myself we did okay by her. I just wish...well, it I had known her time with us was going to be so brief, I would have tried harder to befriend her. I know she felt safe and secure in our house but she never sought affection from us, poor thing. It makes me sad that Denny and I are the only people who mark her passing or mourn her, that the only remembrance of her life is one blurry photograph.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Out of the Pit (con't)

1-2 inches new snow
7-8 inches snow on the ground
Partly cloudy, a balmy -5 degrees F
and the wind blowing out of the north like a mother...

So, my first day back at work went okay, though I am at that healing stage where my voice sounds like hell even though my throat is feeling pretty good at this point. My croaking over the radio encouraged the local pilots to keep our conversations brief, anyway. After work, I filled the gas tank in the Chevy, mailed off some bills that had come in during my illness and stopped off at the Safeway store to see if there was something I could treat myself to. They were having a sale on the big bottles of store-brand lemon-lime drink so I bought a couple of those. I picked up one of their take-and-bake pizzas and splurged on a couple packages of asparagus-stuffed pasta that was also on sale--that will make supper for the days I am not working late. I baked pizza while I fed the cats, put some fresh DVDs in the player and settled in for the night.

About an hour or so after I tucked myself into bed, I started hearing ghostly sounds, so muted the TV to listen. The wind had picked up and was rattling the wires and flashings and stuff that it normally rattles. Oh good, I thought, at least the temperature will warm up a bit...

(If anyone has noticed, looking at the little image of Alaska that is usually tucked off to one corner of the national weather map, we have been having frigid temperatures this past week. The highs for the day this morning were -2 for Anchorage and -40 for Fairbanks. Which is why my parents are in Arizona for the winter....)

Wrong again. I got up to look outside. A fine, dry snow was swirling around in the wind, the truck had acquired about an inch of snow since I had got home and the thermometer out front was firmly on zero. I stuffed some more wood on the fire, turned the fan up and went back to bed...

It is still breezy (gusts over 20 knots) and cold today. The inlet is veiled with a fine mist of steam-fog as far out as I can see, though the water remains unfrozen. The downtown thermometer read -1F when I drove past.

Ah, winter!

So, back to my story...

I forced myself awake early enough to call in sick to Kenai. I sounded so pitiful that all the supervisor asked was when I was supposed to stand watch. I called PD to let him know I wouldn't be in to relieve him, then fell back asleep until the medical clinic opened. The receptionist told me to come right in, so I dressed and hauled myself into town. The upshot was that I had not a cold but the flu and left the clinic with a prescription for cough medicine. Strangely, the doctor didn't seem too concerned about my fever--possibly because my morning temperature was around 99 degrees or maybe he just thought I was exaggerating. Whatever--if he wasn't too concerned, I wouldn't be either.

The cough medicine contained codeine, so I wrapped myself around the bottle and went to sleep for the rest of the day. It was healing to be able to sleep. I found a small cooler, stocked it with my ice pack and cold drinks, and put it beside the bed so I didn't have to stir much except to feed the cats. (And when you've fed the cats at our house, you feel as if you have accomplished something...) When my fever returned that evening, it was not as high or as uncomfortable as previously and it responded fairly well to aspirin. Besides, give me codeine and I lose interest in just about anything else. I was feeling more comfortable than I had in days.

After a good day's rest Friday and Saturday, I felt well enough on Sunday to go into work for an hour and do the time sheets (one of my collateral duties). Because I had been taking the cough medicine with codeine, I wouldn't be medically cleared for working traffic but administrative duties, like doing time sheets, was be okay.

What wasn't okay was the weather. Overnight, wind and snow had moved into the area and driving conditions were white-out in some areas. More than once I had to ask myself what the hell was I thinking to go in on such a crappy day but the time sheets needed to be done and trying to talk one of my colleagues through the process over the phone wasn't an option. I was just glad it was Sunday because traffic was light. The chances of running into some other fool were somewhat lower. Still, it was one of the most frightening drives I can ever recall making. Visibility near the airport was almost zero and I felt my way across the causeway at Beluga Lake by following the guard rail on my right. The return trip home (normally 10 to 15 minutes) took a good half hour. My wiper blades iced up and it took me a mile or so before I could find a safe place to pull over and clear them. Once the truck was safely parked in front of the house, I didn't stir again for four days

Sunday was also the day I realized it was time to go back to the non-prescription (ie, codeine-free) cough medication. The blissful sleep had gotten me past the worst of my symptoms but I had a variety of OTC medications available to get me the rest of the way. I was feeling marginally better, less-feverish and more alert. I was going to live through this.

But there was still the sore throat, the cough and a whole slew of sinus conditions that I won't go into here. Monday night I felt well enough to load the dishwasher for the first time in a week (obviously it needed it) and Tuesday evening I even cooked for myself something that wasn't microwaved. I'm still not at 100% but I am probably about 90% and that's good enough for now.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Out of the Pit

Crawling out of the ten-days-deep pit that was my encounter with this year’s flu virus, a pit that threatens to swallow all of January…

My illness is a boundary. I can look back to the time before I was sick. Then the days of darkness. And then there is now. I have passed through something that has changed me, altered my concept of myself and affected the way I look at life. I feel older, more fragile, less confident, more aware that my life is passed it’s prime.

I wasn’t someone who got sick. I would shake off a cold or the flu in three days or so. Now I feel vulnerable, aware of the impact that illness can have on me.

I saw it coming. Denny came home from Cold Bay on the 11th, complaining of aches and a sore throat. Some co-worker had played the hero by coming into work sick and spreading the virus and Denny brought it home to me.

I could tell he was feeling poorly. Despite all the projects he wanted to do around the house before leaving for school, he spent his few days at home mostly lying on the bed, coughing and feverish. I brought him cold drinks Thera-Flu and made sure there was always something ready to heat–and-eat before I went off to work.

So when I felt that first faint tickle in the back of my throat on the 14th, I knew I hadn’t dodged this particular bullet. As I packed up my belongings before leaving work that evening, I put special care into the preparations, suspecting it might be a few days before I would return to duty.

(I am just so glad that apparently I jumped ship just in time—before any of my co-workers got sick. That is the dicey thing about our workplace because we share not only just air and keyboards but also telephone handsets and microphones. We work close. If I am the only one in the facility to get the flu this year, I will consider that we were lucky… In return, the guys seem very happy that I stayed away—that I was willing to stay away—until the danger of contagion passed. )

I was an extra person on shift for the next two days, Sunday and Monday, so I stayed home. Denny rose up from his sick bed to pack for Oklahoma. I waved him off Monday morning, then went to town and stocked up on chicken soup, Thera-Flu, and microwavable meals before hunkering down for the duration. I watched the complete Lord of the Rings trilogy and all five seasons of OZ and sank deeper into illness. Denny would call once or twice a day and we would croak reassurances across the long distance lines like lovelorn bullfrogs. I'm taking care of myself... Don't worry about me... I'll be feeling better soon, I know it...

I had anticipated a few days of codling myself before going back to the daily grind but the symptoms hit me harder than I expected. I lost my voice, deep, rending coughs moved into my chest, and by Wednesday night, I was alarmed to find my fever running well above 102 degrees.

I took some aspirin and planted a cold-pack on my slow-cooking brain while I fretted over my options. I was pretty sure a fever over 103 was a serious deal—when Lena was fighting her brain infection, her fevers topped 105 degrees, but cats are used to running at a slightly higher body temperature than humans—and her fever had sent her into seizures. Lying there in bed, I felt cognizant enough to drive into town to the Emergency Room. I could do it if I had to without passing out or driving off the road. I knew in a worst-case scenario, I could get help at the hospital. But once I was there, how easy would it be to get back home? Would they let me check myself out or would I have to get someone to come down and bail me out?

While fretting over this, I forced myself upright and staggered around the house feeding the cats--taking frequent breaks to rest. By the time I crashed back on the bed, I was dripping with sweat and my temperature had dropped to 101 degrees. I readjusted my cold pack and decided to see if I could manage to keep the fever at bay with cold drinks and aspirin. My temperature settled down to between 100 and 101 and I went to sleep.

Things seemed better by morning. My temperature was still a bit elevated but not critical. Hey, I had broken out in a sweat last night--maybe that was a sign I was past the worst. I had arranged for PD to work my Thursday night shift for me, so I could rest and regroup in the hope that Friday would find me healthier.

But the fever returned that evening--102.7 degrees. I revisited the pros and cons of going into town, and even forced myself outside long enough to plug in the truck. Back upstairs, sprawled on the bed, I kept taking my temperature, reading the thermometer and realizing that I was in trouble. I was seriously ill and I was alone. What I had to figure out was if my temperature was going to go much higher--something hard to deduce even with a cool head.

It always comes down to the cats.

Okay, they wouldn’t die if they had to go a couple days without having their litter boxes scooped. They might not like it, there might be a few “accidents” or expressions of disgust left on the floor but floors are cleanable. The boiler in the shop would keep the house warm enough (the furnace blower having burnt itself out on the 13th) even if the wood stove went out, as long as it didn’t get down to zero or below. If I left them plenty of food and water, they’d be okay for a day or so and surely with medical attention my temperature could be down to acceptable levels well before the cats needed attention…

Okay--back on my feet and with painful slowness, I began feeding the cats, putting out extra dry food. I topped off the water dishes and refilled the fountain reservoirs. Twitch and BeBe got extra dishes. If I couldn't lower my temperature, I was going to have to go to town.

Once again, by the time I was finished the exertion had brought out sweat and I was cooling off. Temperature just 100.5. Okay--I'd stay home for now--but I knew I needed to get in to see a doctor first thing Friday.

(to be continued)

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Volcanic Ash

Volcanic ash isn't really ash-like. It is more like fine grit or dust. Wet, it is the same shade of brownish-gray as tabbies, spruce bark and moose. Dry, it looks like the surface of the moon--pale grayish-white.

This morning, the surface of the snow was a faint shade of off-white. Only when it was disturbed and the clean snow underneath revealed, did one realize that that latest snowfall contained volcanic ash. If we have to have ashfall, having it fall in snow is the best way to get it, as the ash stays on the ground and isn't kicked up to be sucked into vehicles or electronics. the snow does a good job of encapsulating the ash and keeping it out of the way.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Hunkering Down

A most explosive day...

The volcano erupted several times today, sending up an ash cloud that put the southern Kenai Peninsula under a volcanic ashfall advisory and effectively shut down air travel over a large portion of the state. I kept checking the Alaska Volcano Observatory website for information. About the time the ash was expected to arrive at Homer, a light snow began falling. Only later, when I walked outside and saw the brownish-gray prints I left did I realize that the ash was hidden in the snowfall.

Earlier this morning, the house smelled briefly of burning. A quick investigation discovered that the fan motor on the forced-air furnace had burnt out. We left it running continually, circulating air throughout the building, as a means of taking advantage of the heated slab in the shop. Without it, the temperature in different areas of the house will start to vary but we have smaller fans in various locations that keep air moving. Between the wood stove in the house and the boiler in the shop, we should manage fine until we can get the furnace fan repaired.

About the time I had finished getting dressed for work, I got the call I had been hoping for from my supervisor. They had decided to close the Homer FSS for the afternoon so I didn't need to go in. A free day off. With Denny feeling poorly, I was glad to have the time to spend with him at home and not worrying about driving around in a possible ash fall.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Where I Go I Hope There's Rum...

I sat at work all afternoon watching Augustine Volcano on the AVO website. There were high, thin clouds but the view of the volcano from the webcam was excellent. A thin plume of steam trailed off to the southeast. I was keeping my eye on it.

Channel 2 news ran a short segment on the volcano last night, encouraging people to make preparations in case of an eruption. Also, during the last week or so, the PBS station has run (and re-run) the NOVA program on the Southeast Asian tsunami of 2004. Maybe that was the reason (if reason applies to it) that the whole town seemed to be rumbling with rumors that a volcanic eruption was immenent. The manager at the bank apparently was telling people that the volcano was going to erupt today and the employees at the grocery store were fretting about closing so they could go home. When I came in to relieve him, Mr. Gruff told me he had fielded several calls from people looking for the latest news and that I could expect more such calls in the afternoon. So I was ready...

The air was clear enough that the volcano and steam cloud were visible from the station, especially as the sunset, back-lighting the cloud and the volcanic cone. The webcam offered a larger view, updated every few minutes.

Lots of steam but, as the image faded into the evening twilight, no eruption.

I worked all evening on my belated "holiday" letters and had closed the station, just about to leave when the unrecorded phone line rang. Thinking that it might be Denny, I answered it. It was the manager of the grocery store, asking me if I had any word on the volcano. She had felt an earthquake in the past twenty minutes or so and wondered if that meant the volcano had blown. Well, anytime there is a significant earthquake, we get a message from the Tsunami Warning Center in Palmer--and I hadn't gotten any such message, so I told her that would indicate that the earthquake was local and of a small magnatude. Everyone is jumpy, it seems.

Anyway, I talked with her for ten or fifteen minutes and managed to assure her that as far as we knew, the volcano was quiet.