Infrastructure and heating systems strained under -40 C temperatures
Much of Alaska has plunged into a deep freeze. Anchorage has seen some of its coldest temperatures in years and the mayor opened warming facilities for people who are homeless or don’t have reliable heating.
To the south in the state capital, Juneau, snow blanketed streets and rooftops as part of a two-day storm that helped set a new January snowfall record of two metres for the city, which is nestled in a relatively temperate rainforest. That’s after back-to-back storms walloped Juneau earlier in the month.
Anchorage surpassed 2.5 metres of snow this week, the earliest date the state’s largest city has ever hit that mark.
For much of the last week, temperatures were –40 C or colder in Fairbanks, an inland city of about 32,000 that’s a popular destination for seeing the northern lights. In other far-flung towns, the thermometer hovered between –34.4 C and –28.9 C for days.
It’s not only Fairbanks: Much of Alaska saw temperatures in and around –30 C on Thursday.
Anchorage, which hit –27.2 C late Wednesday night, is experiencing its coldest temperatures in 15 years, said Brian Brettschneider, a climate scientist with the local weather service office.
Heating systems fail
In the small town of Kotzebue, 885 kilometres by air to the northwest, temperatures of –34.4 C and below caused heating fuel to thicken so much that home heating systems and stoves stopped working, the Anchorage Daily News reported. City manager Tessa Baldwin told the newspaper that water lines have frozen across town.
That coincided with challenges that south-central Alaska’s largest utility, ENSTAR Natural Gas Co., has had with two wells at a gas storage facility that was built to address the peak winter demand. The system was “the most strained I’ve seen,” in large part due to gas delivery issues related to the well problems, company president John Sims told a news conference in Anchorage.
Anchorage resident DuShan Vujnovic, a native of Serbia who is working for the Alaska Railroad, said this winter has been “too much.”
This is Vujnovic’s fifth winter in Anchorage and it’s been the coldest. If that weren’t bad enough, last week his job took him north to Fairbanks.
“I’ve never experienced anything that cold, but here I think I’m mostly annoyed with the snow,” he said. “I drive a white car, so sometimes it’s hard to even find it in the snow after two days of not leaving the house.”
Meanwhile, parts of southeast Alaska were almost balmy by comparison, including in Ketchikan, where it was nearly 10 C and raining Thursday. Ketchikan is closer to Seattle than it is to Anchorage.
Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson last week signed an emergency declaration effective through Feb. 9 and added the warming centres, some of which are open around the clock.
A man believed to have fled a fire at a home in the south-central community of Sutton was found dead early Wednesday, possibly due to exposure, Alaska State Troopers said.
Anchorage sent a letter to 1,000 businesses warning them to vacate their properties until snow is removed from the rooftops. At least two commercial buildings have suffered collapses under the weight, and crews are shoveling thick layers of snow from rooftops around the city.
An elementary school in Anchorage was closed Thursday due to problems with a boiler, and schools have had six days of remote learning so far this winter.
Paul Ferucci, a retired Anchorage doctor, was testing his cold weather gear including clothing, gloves and face masks as he trains to participate in the Iditarod Trail Invitational. That’s not the famous dogsled race but rather a competition for humans in which they run, bike or ski either 482 or 1,609 kilometres along the same unforgiving route.
Ferucci said he saw the temperature was –28.9 C in one part of Anchorage on Thursday and couldn’t remember the last time it went that low.
“It’s been cold, and we’ve had a ton of snow,” he said. “And really, if you like the outdoors in the winter, it’s been one of the best winters so far that I can remember.”
Related stories from around the North:
Canada: Endurance athletes gear up for the Yukon’s cold and slippery wilderness, CBC News
United States: Anchorage ‘Pandemic of snow’ sets record for earliest arrival of 100 inches of snow, The Associated Press