A First Student school bus stalls out at D and 4th Streets in Douglas after snowfall on Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2020. No students were on the bus at the time and the bus was safely backed down the street. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

A First Student school bus stalls out at D and 4th Streets in Douglas after snowfall on Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2020. No students were on the bus at the time and the bus was safely backed down the street. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Late snow means safer roads this year compared to last

Juneau saw 58 total car crashes in December, way less than past two years.

A warm, wet November and December may have had another side effect beyond a not-so-white Christmas: safer roads in Juneau in the early winter.

November 2019 had 59 automobile mishaps, including both collisions and vehicles in ditches, according to data supplied by Juneau Police Department. November 2018 saw 71, a 15% increase. The year prior, November 2017, had 118 such accidents — fully 100% more than this winter’s.

This could be due to any number of factors, said Erann Kalwara, public safety manager for JPD, but weather was likely one of them.

Winter weather leads to an increase in vehicle accidents due to reduced road traction and ice, leading to higher numbers of collisions and driving into ditches, said Capital City Fire/ Rescue Assistant Chief Travis Mead in a phone interview.

[2019 will be Alaska’s warmest year on record, and it looks like that’s going to continue]

According to Daniel Hartsock, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Juneau, the first significant snowfall in Juneau occurred in early November in both 2018 and 2017. Nov. 10th, 2017 saw 3.5 inches, and Nov. 3rd, 2018 had about 3 inches, Hartsock said in an email. By contrast, Juneau’s first major snowfall of this year came after New Year’s, beginning to fall on Monday.

In December, the difference in crashes was also drastic, according to the data from JPD. In December 2017, there were 76 crashes, 90 crashes in December 2018, and just 58 crashes in December 2019.

“Today I saw multiple vehicles in the ditch on Egan,” Mead said. “It’s absolutely ice related.”

This isn’t to say weather is solely to blame, but it plays a factor.

“Anticipate the people that are in a rush. Take the time to clean the windows on your vehicle,” Mead said. “You’re just upping your chances for bad things to happen if you can’t operate your vehicle correctly.”

• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 757-621-1197 or mlockett@juneauempire.com.

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