Many Juneau residents enjoyed a most unasked-for opportunity to reset their kitchen clocks twice in two days as snow and ice that began falling Sunday afternoon strangled roads and knocked out power, closing schools, businesses and city offices on Monday.
“It seems like a perfect storm,” Alaska Electric Light and Power vice president of consumer affairs Debbie Driscoll said in a phone interview. “We had a lot of snow and also a lot of heavy ice.”
Snowfall set records for measuring stations around the city, with more than 7 inches falling on Nov. 1, said National Weather Service Forecaster Kimberly Vaughan in a phone interview.
“On Nov. 1, Juneau Airport broke a record when it got 7.6 inches of snowfall, which broke a record of 6.6 inches,” Vaughan said. “Thursday night’s when we’re going start clearing up.”
The total snowfall from the storm won’t be known till measurements are collected at midnight Monday evening, Vaughan said. The week is forecasted to have a mix of snow showers and partly cloudy days with temperatures Thursday dropping into the single digits, Vaughan said.
“We are pretty much the warmest today and tomorrow that we’re going to be all week,” Vaughan said.
Power outages began occurring across Juneau Sunday afternoon, Driscoll said, ranging from Thane to Out The Road. Trees downed by ice were the primary cause, Driscoll said. AEL&P announced an outage Out the Road shortly before 4:30 p.m. Sunday. At 8:20 p.m., AEL&P announced an outage in the Lena Loop Area, shortly after 4:15 a.m., another outage was announced for the downtown and Thane customers. Not long after,around 5 a.m., an areawide outage was announced. Some homes in the Mendenhall Valley area had power back shortly after 7 a.m., but in other neighborhoods, the outages persisted until later.
9 am update: multiple trees are causing restoration delays to Downtown, Thane, Douglas, and North Douglas. The crew is also working on downed lines near Tee Harbor/Randall Road.— AEL&P (@AELPJUNEAU) November 2, 2020
“We’re trying to respond as quickly as they can, Driscoll said. “We anticipate with the weather there may be additional outages. More trees dropped on lines.
Stay safe, stay home
Power outages caused a number of emergency calls as power for life-support machines was interrupted in private homes, said Capital City Fire/Rescue assistant chief Ed Quinto in a phone interview. With power for apparatus such as oxygen machines dead, CCFR responded to a number of calls across the city. Quinto had suggestions for residents if the power goes down again.
“Make sure you have some sort of light. Candles are OK, but not really good cause they can catch on fire. Battery-powered light is better,” Quinto said. “Think about heat. Stay warm with blankets and such. Stay in touch with other people and make sure they know you’re OK.”
The Juneau Police Department also responded to over a dozen road incidents.
“We have had 18 calls regarding [vehicles in ditches], but the actual number of cars going into the ditch may be a little bit higher,” Campbell said.
There were no injuries or multiple-vehicle crashes reported yet on Monday morning, Campbell said. The best way to keep that number low is to stay off the road, Campbell said.
“Try to stay home if at all possible. If you do have to drive, give yourself more time than usual to get to your destination. Drive slower,” Campbell said. “Try not to brake or accelerate rapidly or while turning, which can cause your vehicle to lose control when it’s icy. Give plenty of room between the car in front of you, so you have time to stop in case they crash or lose control.”
Vehicles on the road weren’t the only ones impeded by snow. Across Juneau, several boats and at least one seaplane were seen to capsize under the weight of ice and snow.
“We’ve got a mess around the harbor. We’ve got boats taking on water everywhere. It’s just heavy. We had heavy rain. That puts some water on some boats. And then this heavy snow. It doesn’t take much,” said CBJ harbormaster Matt Creswell in a phone interview. “We’ve had to talk to at least ten boat owners about their vessels being low in the water.”
Creswell urged all boat owners to go check their vessels immediately.
Snow days after all
The Juneau School District announced it would not be distributing meals or holding any in-person classes or programs such as RALLY or Children’s House for Monday. The City and Borough of Juneau also announced all of its offices would be closed.
“Some teachers are able to hold classes as scheduled and are excusing students who aren’t able to attend due to power outages,” said JSD chief of staff Kristin Bartlett in an email. “Some teachers are posting assignments in the Canvas online learning platform so students can continue working independently and won’t need to attend on Zoom.”
The district is adjusting with this first real snow day under the new distanced scheme of education.
“This is our first unexpected snow day with our new distance learning structure in place. As we get used to these new tools we will be able to better serve students during any type of emergency closure, including snow days,” Bartlett said. “Power outages make distance learning more difficult for sure, but we will continue to provide instruction the best we can through the many challenges we face every day. The more flexible and adaptable we can be, the less we will have to shut down and the better the instructional programs are for students.”
CBJ City Manager Rorie Watt said that the city shutdown was as much for safety of drivers as for lack of power.
“The roads are terrible,” Watt said in a phone interview. “We don’t need people driving any more than necessary.”
Plowing was occurring across Juneau, but the snow on top of the ice mixture made going difficult, Watt said.
“We’ve got most of what we’re gonna get. The plows are doing the best they can,” Watt said. “When it falls like this, somewhere between mashed potatoes and wet concrete, it just takes a lot longer to plow.”
Critical infrastructure for things like the sewage treatment plant and water facilities has on-site generation capability, Watt said, to keep the city from completely seizing up. Plowing by both CBJ and the Alaska DOT will continue throughout the day, but Watt urged residents to defer driving till the next day if at all possible.
“Today’s a good day to not get out on the roads,” Watt said. “There’ll be other days to run those errands.”