Update, 6:30 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 9
Heavy snow over the weekend led to schools, streets and stores closing.
Juneau schools will be closed on Monday, the city announced Sunday evening. All classes, activities and after-school programs are canceled, and there will be no online classes. Updates will be shared on juneauschools.org.
In a social media post Sunday, it was announced Fred Meyer would be closed due to hazardous conditions. A time frame for reopening was not included in the post.
Additionally, Thane Road will be closed because of the risk of avalanche, Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities announced. The closure will stretch into Monday, and conditions will be reevaluated at 8 a.m. on Monday, according to the department.
City and Borough of Juneau offices will be open on Monday, according to the city.
With another round of snowmageddon potentially bearing down on the capital city and almost 3 feet of snow already on the ground, Juneauites are feeling the effects of a harsh winter season.
Next, the City and Borough of Juneau is “about to endure a warm-up,” according to National Weather Service meteorologist Wes Adkins.
He said that frigid temperatures will give way to a round of intense snow over the weekend, followed by a warm-up and potential rain early next week.
Atkins said the combination of warming temperatures, more snow and rain could spell headaches for residents on land and at sea.
“It could be wet and sloppy or rainy. It’s all a matter of a few degrees — literally,” he said, adding that the coming warming air is “proof you can have too much of a good thing.”
In a phone interview Friday afternoon, Katie Koester, director of the CBJ Engineering and Public Works Department, said that city crews are “racing against the clock” to move snow already on the ground before the next storm.
“We are really trying to do snow removal and snow cleanup, so when the storm hits, there’s someplace to put the snow,” she said.
Koester said the city is using contract dump trucks to take snow to quickly filling snow storage depot facilities located on Thane and in an overflow bus parking lot near the Mendenhall Glacier.
“The crews are working hard. They’ve been working around the clock since New Year’s Day,” she said.
In a special weather statement on the National Weather Service website, officials advise caution as wet snow and rain can strain structures and cause flooding.
According to the statement, “additional heavy snow on top of already deep snowpack on roof-tops and other structures, boats, and aircraft could become heavier as rain-soaked snow challenges load capability.”
Koester said she’s asking all residents to “adopt a storm drain” and help to keep drains clear as snow begins to melt and rain begins to fall.
“Our next concern is making sure the moisture has somewhere to go. That’s the next test,” she said.
Koester said she’s recruited CBJ staff from other departments to help clear drains around the city. But, she said residents can help by chipping away at the ice and using rock salt to help melt ice. She said pouring boiling water into the drain is not helpful.
“One benefit we have is that the storm drain is below grade, so it should be warmer than outside temperatures,” she said.
In a news release this week, CBJ offered high-level guidance on roof maintenance during times of heavy snow. But, cautioned that climbing onto an icy roof carries dangers and that “each individual building, building location, and part of the building has slightly different conditions that may be totally different from its next-door neighbor. It is up to the individual property owner to consider the benefits and dangers of snow removal and decide their own course of action.”
Tools of the trade are in short supply
Daniel Hanson, a sales floor associate at Don Abel Building Supply & Rental, said people purchased most of the store’s snow removal supplies during heavy snow events in December and that current supplies are thin.
He said the store is currently out of snow shovels, roof rakes, rock salt and snowblowers.
He said rock salt is on the way and should arrive next week, along with four snowblowers the store expects.
He suggested using gardening and lawn care tools on hand to remove snow if a shovel isn’t available. He said residents can use an ice pick or a spade to remove ice near drains or chip away at large snowpacks.
He also suggested stocking up on products to de-ice car doors and help ease the process of removing snow from cars and preventing snowblowers from freezing over.
In December, Koester told the city’s Public Works and Facilities Committee members that “operators are working around the clock during snow events to keep roads open.”
But, she said several factors make snow removal efforts challenging but that the city works hard to clear snow quickly and safely.
Koester said crews are smaller than they were a decade ago because a series of budget cuts have trimmed staff numbers. And with the omicron variant spreading quickly through the Borough, employers have expressed concern about labor shortages.
On Thursday afternoon, Robert Barr, deputy city manager, said that three snow operators were currently unavailable but that the absence was not explicitly related to COVID-19 quarantines.
On Friday, Koester said that CBJ’s robust mitigation strategies do a good job keep snow removal crews healthy. But, she acknowledged that when people work every day, they are more susceptible to illness.
Burnout among crews is another cause for concern.
Mayor Beth Weldon said she’s worried.
“I feel bad for them. They work like crazy, and all they get are complaints about snow berms,” Weldon said in a Thursday morning interview. “They are all working their hearts out.”
The weather service statement also warns of avalanche danger.
Atkins said that if light, powdery snow falls first and is followed by wetter, cement-like snow and rain, conditions could lead to avalanches throughout the region.
City emergency program manager Tom Mattice agreed.
“Warming through storm cycles is never good. When you transition from below freezing to above freezing during a storm, that’s not good. We will probably see avalanches. A lot of that depends on how high the rain line goes,” Mattice said in a phone interview this week.
According to Jeremy Norbryhn, deputy harbor master for Docks and Harbors, a vessel sank at Don D. Statter Harbor on New Year’s Day. Norbryhn said that’s the only vessel to sink in a city-owned harbor this season.
“The weight of the snow gets on there and pushes them down,” he said, adding that the boat that sank this week went down in about 100 feet of water and can’t easily be recovered.
“It sank really fast,” Norbryhn said. “Heavy snow loads can take them down.”
Norbryhn said docks and harbor staff keep a watchful eye on vessels but encourage all boat owners to get down to the harbor to keep vessels clear of snow.
He said that docks and harbor staff try to help out when they see vessels in peril. However, they are careful not to endanger staff members.
“We ask that everyone get out there and shovel them off,” Norbryhn said. “If we see a boat in trouble, we call the owners and ask them to come down.”
• Contact reporter Dana Zigmund at firstname.lastname@example.org or 907-308-4891.