Tag Archives: Snowfall

Why I hate looking back stories –


One thing I’ve always despised as a journalist is the looking back stories we madly produce at the end of each year.

That’s not to say follow up is not important. In our need to fill a very slow news hole during the holidays, we often try to guess at what’s important to revisit and often settle for the easiest to tell.

As my own news tastes change with technology, I find myself tiring of reviews, and I spend more and more time looking for previews.

I can’t be alone in this.

I’ve worked hard the last few years to try to divorce myself from the myopic viewpoint journalists often take. I’ve tried to think in terms of someone from my own generation who is busy beyond words and without time to comb through dozens of news sites each day.

I don’t watch television news, and I don’t subscribe to a daily newspaper. I do listen to a lot of public radio, which helps me stay up-to-date on world affairs. Twitter informs me about the rest, including breaking news. And Facebook connects me into other news sources as rated important by my friends and family.

Lately I’ve used a series of news apps to find highly curated articles that I’d have to dig for myself. And again, I can’t be alone in my news consumption habits.

All of this makes me want to reform not how we consume news but how we gather news. In every media format I’ve worked in, newspaper, television and radio, 90 percent of our energy was expended on a traditional format that was shedding viewers and listeners like a bad sitcom.

Thus the looking back stories at the end of each year, which serve only to fill holiday space rather than truly inform the public.

One story that took a long look back at an avalanche that occurred more than a year ago in Washington’s Cascade Mountains, caught my attention. Not because it looked back at something I didn’t know about, but because of the way it looked back. 

Using a slick interface that blends multimedia seamlessly with text, the New York Times has created not just a masterpiece of storytelling, but a massive move forward in the way that stories will likely be consumed on handheld devices in the future. 

Even though the story wasn’t forward looking, the way in which it was told was. 

When I pulled Snowfall up on my iPad on Christmas Day, I couldn’t put the story down. It was too engaging. And even though I had read the prolific news reports a year before, I was completely drawn into the story’s many elements from inline multimedia graphics to videos and the timeline feel of the layout. 

This is my kind of looking back story. 

The Winter of Record

I think it’s safe to say that our second winter in Alaska has come to an end. By all accounts, spring technically started at the solstice, but in Alaska, winter ends when it wants to, not a second earlier. 

Spring, like fall, can be missed entirely, if you blink too long. 

Either that, or summer here is the longest spring in the world. 

I never paid this much attention to weather when I worked in newspapers. The men and women brazen enough to predict the weather didn’t write it down, they spoke it to the masses wrong or right. 

But I have a bit of a competitive streak when it comes to life experiences. 

I’m a little jealous that my dad has been to more than 100 countries, and I’m only at 51.

When I traveled to Unalaska in the Aleutian Islands, it was only to find out that my father had already been there.

But he hasn’t been to Barrow. He hasn’t stood at the northernmost point in the United States.

See, it’s neurotic.

When the winter started to build, when the snows piled up like mystic sand dunes, it seemed as if the Alaska I had always envisioned finally showed up.

I had witnessed a doozy of a storm in Nome in in 2011, but it was eclipsed by a blow of epic proportions just under a year later.

And the snow continued to pile up. It swallowed our broke-down third car. It ate the deck whole, and we gave up shoveling the walk sometime in mid January. 

Then it froze solid. And it stayed that way for a month. 

We were fortunate enough to escape to Hawaii for two weeks to thaw out. 

At some point, the winter turned to survival mode. Netflix and Call of Duty 4 kill a lot more than brain cells and cgi soldiers. They kill time. 

The walls of snow along our road rose to a lofty height of something taller than our SUV. 

And soon the talk began. It was quiet at first, just a few mentions of a possible snow record. 

But I was hooked. If we’re going to survive an Alaskan winter, it might as well be the worst winter on record. 

The talk turned to hard numbers. The inches grew, and suddenly the 50+ year old record was within reach. 

But the spring encroached, and snow-filled days turned to bright blue skies and sunshine. The temperatures warmed into the 30s, and the snowmaker systems out in the Gulf of Alaska dissipated. 

It was the equivalent of being within a few miles of a border crossing and not ‘getting the country.’ Sitting at a banquette and bypassing the souffle. 

And then an overcast Saturday fell like a claymore. Damp and heavy with no highlights in the steely sky, the snow smell like gunpowder on New Year’s Eve. 

The flakes came, small at first and then thick. I was convinced the record fell early, but the National Weather Service wouldn’t measure until 4 p.m. Anchorage waited in somewhat of an agony. 

Simply to declare the winter the worst or the snowiest in recorded history wasn’t enough. It needed an official call, a meteorologist or a Tweet from the guys and ladies down at the National Weather Service. 

Like Santa Claus, we all had to wait and anticipate together. 

But it fell, and it fell hard that day. We crushed the old record by a good 3 inches of new snow that melted almost as fast as it touched the ground. 

And I can officially say that I survived the worst, or snowiest, winter on record in Anchorage, Alaska.