Fairbanks is riding a weather roller coaster, from freezing rain to snow and frigid cold

Pedestrians avoided icy sidewalks in downtown Fairbanks on Sunday, Dec.26, 2021. (Jeff Chaucer via Fairbanks Daily News-Miner)

Fairbanks and much of Interior Alaska are still dealing with an unprecedented Christmas storm that dumped snow and rain, causing extremely difficult driving conditions and power outages for thousands for residents.

Department of Transportation crews are battling a thick coating of ice on roads, and the local utility, Golden Valley Electric, is continuing to work on restoring electricity to pockets of customers.

As KUAC’s Dan Bross reports, that’s all with a forecast of more snow to come and then a deep freeze.

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The following transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

Dan Bross: Up to another 10 inches are predicted for the Fairbanks area and more down toward the Alaska Range down toward Denali Park. So yeah, we’re not done. But thankfully this time it’s supposed to be mostly snow. We did have a little bit of light freezing rain earlier Tuesday afternoon, but that’s not supposed to be the case moving forward, we’re supposed to have snow. So that is a relief. Because, you know, we can deal with snow.

Casey Grove: Well, obviously, this all made the roads pretty slick. How pinned down have people been there, as far as trying to get around, and what’s going on with the roads?

DB: So the roads were really, really bad on Sunday. And Monday, they worked around the clock because it was serious, you need to be able to move emergency vehicles if something happens. So they got to the main roads and worked them. But because the wet snow and rain fell on cold pavement, like cold-soaked pavement, you know, from past weeks of 30-below zero, all that rain just stuck. And it’s really hard to get that ice up. It’s bumpy, a lot of places. And instead of the underlying surface being pavement, now the underlying surface is an ice road with snow on top of it. So yeah, it’s not great driving out there. But they have gotten, amazingly, like even up to remote state-maintained roads, most of those have been hit now and plowed. So like I live in a neighborhood on a state-maintained road, and last night overnight, Monday into Tuesday, they plowed it. So it was a big relief.

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CG: Yeah, no doubt. And I guess there had been quite a few people without power, who are now getting power back online. Is that right?

DB: Yeah. So on Sunday the outages were affecting about 14,000 people, and there were about, I think, 130 some outages Sunday. Now there’s actually more. I just talked to Golden Valley Electric Association. They said they were up to like 169 outages, but only 1,500 people, or members, affected. So a lot fewer people affected, but what they’re talking about is that, whether an outage affects two people or 2,000 people, it still takes a line crew to go out, find it — most of these are caused by trees falling on lines — find that section that’s affected, you know, cut the tree out, reenergize everything. So they said it’s going to be slow, and they even brought extra utility crews up from Anchorage to help with repairs.

CG: Oh, wow. So there’s these pockets or individual customers that maybe could be out for a prolonged period of time, it sounds like.

DB: Yeah, especially depending on what happens with the snow that’s coming, you know, Wednesday and into early Thursday, because it’s supposed to be accompanied by some pretty strong winds. Winds of 30 miles per hour. So you’ve got these trees that just won’t shed their snow because the snow is locked on with ice, and they’re just prone to breaking. Like we went for a walk with our dogs on our property down below in the woods this afternoon. And I probably saw in like a quarter mile walk at least eight trees that had broken off.

CG: And I guess one thing that’s a little scary, too, considering people are still without power, is that it looks like it’s going to get cold again not too long from now.

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DB: Yeah, on the weekend they’re forecasting below zero lows again, in the colder spots down to 30 below by Saturday night. So yeah, if you’re relying on electricity for heat, and you still don’t have power, that won’t be good.

CG: Well, that at least would be maybe a return to more normal Fairbanks temperatures for this time of year. Dan, considering how long have you lived in Fairbanks, I mean, how unusual is it to have had all this rain and the warm up and just everything that you’ve seen so far?

DB: Extremely unusual. The day after Christmas, I kept opening the door just to hear it. Just to hear rain falling, this time of year on the snow and on the trees, was surreal and not easy to deal with. The snow with the rain soaked in it was really hard to deal with, like the snowblower gummed up, it sticks to shovels. I’m feeling worn out! I was hoping to take a few days off over Christmas to New Year’s, and I’m trying to do that, but it’s mostly been working on snow. So yeah, it’s been a lot of work. I’m feeling worn out.

CG: Well, good job and good luck to you and everybody else there. I hope that it doesn’t get worse.

DB: Yeah, I think we’ve got another day or so to get through. And yeah, I worry about people who don’t have backup heat sources, and you always hear about people running, you know, propane heaters or things like that that can cause problems inside. So yeah, I mean, I’d be real careful and be careful with generators and all that.

Dan Bross is a reporter at KUAC in Fairbanks.

Casey Grove is host of Alaska News Nightly, a general assignment reporter and an editor at Alaska Public Media. Reach him at cgrove@alaskapublic.org. Read more about Casey here

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