An Alaska Airlines flight lands at the Juneau International Airport on Monday, Nov. 22, 2021, amid a day of rain and snow. The National Weather Services issued a winter storm warning for Tuesday to Thursday, which covers "Black Wednesday," the busiest travel day of the year. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

Wintry weather coincides with busy travel days

Snow likely to turn to rain by Wednesday

Juneau can expect another wave of heavy snow followed closely by rain over the Thanksgiving holiday, according to the National Weather Service, who on Monday released another winter storm warning for Southeast Alaska.

A storm system is moving into the area and should be here by Tuesday, said Kayla Tinker, a meteorologist with NWS in Juneau, who told the Empire in a phone interview that precipitation is likely to change from snow to rain starting Wednesday.

“As of right now we have the temperature staying warm enough for rain,” Tinker said, even at over 1000 feet in elevation. “Because it’s trailing with moisture, it will likely be a wetter snow than what we saw with this past system.”

According to the winter storm warning, the northern and central areas of Southeast Alaska can expect 6-12 inches of snow Tuesday evening through Thursday morning. Snow covered roads and limited visibility may impact holiday travel, the warning said.

The Wednesday before Thanksgiving is the busiest travel day of the year and Tinker said as the storm moves in it may bring gusts of wind that could disrupt air travel, particularly for small aircraft.

But wet weather is something the employees at the Juneau International Airport are well accustomed to dealing with, said airport manager Patty Wahto, and the airport has workers on hand to regularly clear the runway of snow. The biggest problem for the airport is ice on the runway, Wahto said, which usually comes following several days of bitter cold followed by rain.

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“We concentrate on our airfield conditions, we’ve got enough crew working out on the runway,” Wahto said.

Wahto said the airport is in regular contact with airlines regarding the weather, which can sometimes cause visibility problems. Alaska Airlines spokesperson Tim Thompson told the Empire in an email it was difficult to predict scheduling days ahead of time, but the company was aware of the weather warning and keeping an eye on the situation.

Alaska Airlines has issued travel advisories for the high volume of holiday traffic expected, according to the company’s website, and has issued a specific travel advisory for Anchorage.

The airport was certainly seeing more travelers than last year, Wahto said, so much so that she was comparing this year’s travel numbers to 2019, the last regular year before the COVID-19 pandemic. Some days the airport was seeing higher traveler numbers compared to 2019, Wahto said, but on other days the numbers are significantly lower.

The Alaska Marine Highway System hasn’t seen an increase in holiday travelers, said Sam Dapcevich, regional spokesperson for the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, but noted that many people wait until the last minute to purchase tickets. Weather delays are not uncommon at this time of year, Dapcevich said in an email, and the system recently had issues that caused delays.

On Friday, Nov. 19, freezing spray forced the Haines-bound LeConte to return to Juneau and offload heavy equipment to improve vessel stability, Dapcevich said, but was able to complete its round trip. According to Dapcevich, the vessels Tustumena and Kennicott have experienced a few delays recently due to heavy weather in the gulf.

“Heavy snow and rain do not impact travel,” Dapcevich said in an email. “High winds, seas, and freezing spray are the most common weather culprits.”

In addition to weather advisories, health officials are also urging diligence with COVID-19 mitigation practices. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has released guidelines for safe holiday travel and gatherings, including masking, avoiding gatherings if feeling ill and testing following potential exposure.

• Contact reporter Peter Segall at psegall@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnuEmpire.

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