On Monday, Nov. 22, residents of Alaska awakened to an ice storm that was going to cause many problems in its wake. In order for this storm to have maximum impact, it had to occur the week of the Thanksgiving holidays — and it delivered!
The cause of this weather event was due to warm winds drifting northward. South central Alaska had already entered the winter season and had plenty of snow on the ground. As the warm winds lashed Alaska, the snow melted during the day and turned to ice overnight. A fairly rare phenomenon known as temperature inversion also played a significant role. The combined contributing factors made this an unprecedented event in impact to the state. The fact that virtually the whole state was affected was also a first.
The storm arrived in south central Alaska in the wee hours of Monday morning. Residents of Anchorage were met with such icy conditions that cars were completely encapsulated. People could barely walk to their cars, much less drive them down the ice-coated streets. The sand and gravel trucks had not yet begun, and school was not canceled. People who had to go to work or drop the children off at school were hard-pressed to get anywhere. If there was a hill along your route, you most likely would not make it up or down that hill. Studded snow tires were not making much of a difference. Traffic proceeded no faster than 10 miles per hour. Even experienced drivers in the ice were having trouble. It was not uncommon to see vehicles spinning out of control and end up in the ditch or plow into another car. The police were having a difficult time keeping up with all the reported accidents.
The weather stations said this unusual event was due to warm winds that had blown into the region. When the warmer winds arrived, the precipitation turned to freezing rain, instead of delivering snow. Who would have thought that warmer temperatures in Alaska could cause so many problems?
That is exactly what the unseasonably warm weather did. The snow and ice already on the ground was melting during the day, then refreezing at night. When freezing rain arrived, this added to the ice on the ground. It caused the drains to clog. The drains struggled to handle as much of the melting ice as they could. However, as the water froze again overnight, the drains became plugged. New maintenance crews had to be sent out to deal with the drainage problem. Some people experienced plugged chimneys as the the ice rain coated the coverings.
It is rare for Fairbanks to be affected by ice this late in the season. The interior of the state is known for being dryer and colder than south central Alaska. However, this time Fairbanks was not let off the hook. Many people were left wondering what had happened when the darling of the interior had been hit. The school officials failed to act and school was not canceled both in Fairbanks and in Anchorage. Pictures and videos hit the web and Facebook of the many accidents and near-misses taking place that Monday morning. The school districts did, however, correct their error on Tuesday and Wednesday, and schools were closed. People were urged to stay home and not drive if at all possible.
The weathermen had been talking of a temperature inversion for a few days. Finally, what they had been predicting had impacted Alaskans. A temperature inversion is when warmer temperatures prevail at higher altitudes and the colder temperatures are at the lower altitudes. This means that, as the clouds let go of their precipitation, it starts falling to the ground as snow. When the precipitation travels through the layer of warm air, it melts and turns into rain. As the rain proceeds through the colder temperatures closer to the ground, it turns into ice. Thus, Alaska had tons of freezing rain to contend with.
Alaskans are well-versed in the attitude that Mother Nature rules here. They have learned not to try to buck her. Their laid-back attitude came in handy during this particular circumstance, as progress in work places, along the roads and in schools came to a grinding halt.
The weather forecasters said that the effects of the storm should be abated by Thanksgiving Day, when all the freezing rain would turn into snow. This was going to be a welcome change. Snow is a million times easier to navigate than ice. Hopefully, all of Alaska would be back to “business as usual” in time to give thanks.
Craig Medred, http://alaskadispatch.com/dispatches/news/7587-ice-storm-sweeps-much-of-alaska, Alaska Dispatch