Like the growl of a predator unseen but clearly heard, the menace of true winter is upon us as storms bear down on Juneau Saturday and Monday.
“We have two separate systems we’re dealing with,” said Greg Spann, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Juneau, in a phone interview Friday. “The first one is tomorrow. The second is Monday. We think that’s gonna be impactful.”
With an early and enthusiastic kick-off including an ice storm and the power outages that ensued, 2020’s winter season has been a good deal less mild than last year. Monday’s weather event will follow what was predicted to be 4-11 inches of snow, Spann said.
“We have another potentially impactful system racing up towards Juneau. We’re not exactly sure if it’s gonna be rain, snow, wind. It’s going to be some combination of all of the above,” Spann said. “That’s a front sweeping in from the gulf. Right now we’re thinking the worst of it should be on Monday.”
So how can Juneau residents be prepared? Try yourself against our quiz, and then read what the experts have to say.
Winter safety quiz
1) What should you do after a heavy snow?
A: Go hiking without your phone.
B: Prepare the ritual sacrifice to the Old Ones.
C: Go out of town without letting Docks and Harbors know a good in-town contact.
D: Drive carefully and slowly on the roads and dress for the weather.
2) Which should you do if you fall through lake ice?
A: Begin a new job as the Spirit of the Lake.
B: Get your upper body out of the ice before crawling out, keeping low and distributing your weight. Hand spikes and a friend with a rope are helpful.
C: Punch a new hole through the ice to create an escape route and show the ice who’s in charge.
D: Click your heels three times and say there’s “no place like home.”
3) What’s the safest apparel for outdoor winter activities?
A: Layers involving good wicking properties and good weatherproofing on the outer layers.
B: Freshly soaked cotton to form a protective coating of ice.
C: A full suit of plate armor, to better defend against yeti and sasquatch attacks
D: A NASA space suit.
4) Where should you deep-fry a turkey?
B: In your garage.
D: While snowboarding down Eaglecrest’s many fine slopes.
5) What should every house contain?
A: Fire extinguishers.
B: Carbon monoxide detectors.
C: Love and respect for our fellow humans.
D: Smoke detectors.
E: All the above.
Bonus: which items don’t belong in your power outage emergency kit? Pick three.
Flashlight, extra batteries, can/bottler opener, matches/lighter, 3-5 days of nonperishable food, bottled water, 3-5 days of pet supplies, M2A1-7 flamethrower, cooler, battery powered clock/radio, prescriptions and first aid kit, cell phone car charger, extra copy of Robert Penn Warren’s seminal work “All the King’s Men,” extra blankets, fire extinguisher, camp stove/fuel, candles/lanterns, moist towelettes, dinosaur DNA preserved in amber, disposal plates and utensils, personal hygiene supplies, emergency phone numbers.
Staying safe on the roads
After snow, experts advise motorists to drive to conditions.
“Drive with caution. Play it safe,” Spann said. “You’re in control of your vehicle right up until you aren’t in my experience.”
Proper preparedness will prevent poor performance, said Capital City Fire/Rescue’s assistant chief Ed Quinto.
“Make sure your vehicle is ready to go for winter driving. Make sure your tires and car are mechanically in good shape,” Quinto said. “Drive slowly, there’s black ice out there. Always take into consideration the condition of the road. If you go out driving or go out for a hike, make sure your cell phone is charged.”
The great outdoors
Outdoor activities should be approached carefully in the winter, Quinto said. Winter in Alaska makes the margin that much thinner for small mistakes to compound into a dangerous situation.
“Dress for the weather. Layered clothes are best. You can always take them off and put them on. If you’re gonna be out in the weather and it’s cold, make sure you’re fully hydrated,” Qutino said. “Pay attention to the children, the edlerly, and the chronically ill. They’re gonna be more susceptible to frostbite. You have to be prepared.”
Quinto also advised people to keep their revelry indoors for the next several months.
“Keep drinking to the house. Being outside during cold weather, alcohol affects your thinking ability,” Quinto said. “You think you’re warm but you’re not warm.”
CCFR also does not recommend going on iced-over lakes as a safe activity, but has some recommendations for those that do so anyway.
“The ice is never 100% safe. The minimum thickness for someone to be on the ice is 4 inches,” Quinto said. “We never approve anyone going on the ice. Our recommendation is if you’re going out on the ice, you have someone with you. You should always carry rope that’s thick enough and long enough that someone can reach out and grab it and pull you out of the water.”
Quinto also recommended common-sense strategies like avoiding going near Nugget Falls or the Mendenhall Glacier. If you do go through the ice, Quinto said, leave through the hole you created, and once you’re back on the ice, keep your weight low and spread out to avoid putting too much pressure on any one spot.
Staying safe on the water
Snow doesn’t just threaten your safety on the road. It can also be a danger to watercraft, said harbormaster Matt Creswell in a phone interview.
“If you got a boat in the harbor, keep it shoveled and brushed off,” Creswell said. “If you’re out of town, make sure you have someone designated as the emergency contact.”
Several vessels capsized or were in danger of doing so during the early November ice storm, Creswell said at the time. Boat owners who are going out of town can call 586-5255 to update their contact information with City and Borough of Juneau Docks and Harbors so their personnel have a point of contact in case someone’s vessel is in distress.
“Keep it tied tight,” Creswell said. “Keep an eye on it.”
Staying safe at home
Winter doesn’t just threaten human life in the wilderness: its icy fangs can reach us right in our homes.
“Make sure your chimneys are clean. Check your smoke detectors. Make sure you know your means of egress. Last fire, someone woke up to a smoke detector, which saved their life,” Quinto said. “Make sure you’re not burning any diesel or gasoline inside the house. You should always have a CO (carbon monoxide) detector in the house.”
Power outages, while infrequent, can be uncomfortable or even dangerous if they’re prolonged.
“This winter time, we’ve had several power outages,” Quinto said. “You should know what to do if the power goes out for longer than a day.”
Alaska Electric Light and Power has a recommended list of things to keep in an emergency outage box, ideally grouped together for convenience.
Home (safe) for the holidays
The regular trappings of the holidays have been somewhat interrupted by the need to stay apart to stave off an holiday-time explosion of the coronavirus, but that doesn’t mean we should be less vigilant about the normal threats to life, limb and eyesight that come with the winter holidays, Quinto said.
“Thanksgiving is around the corner. If you’re going to deep-fat-fry your turkey, think about deep-fat-fryer safety,” Quinto said. “Don’t do it inside or in your garage. Do it outside. Look on the internet how to do it safely and follow directions.”
But the fun doesn’t stop with Thanksgiving. Christmas follows hard on its heels, with its own set of possible dangers for the careless and unwary. There are approximately 160 home fires every year that begin with Christmas trees, according to the National Fire Protection Association.
“Christmas is around the corner. Make sure your Christmas lights are safe,” Quinto said. “Don’t use any candles on your tree. Put lights on a surge protector.”
3: A, D
Bonus: M2A1-7 flamethrower, extra copy of Robert Penn Warren’s seminal work “All the King’s Men” and dinosaur DNA preserved in amber.
• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at (757) 621-1197 or firstname.lastname@example.org.