High winds whip town
Three separate incidents of high winds since Nov. 28 knocked down trees, downed at least 14 sections of power lines, and blew out a landmark sign downtown.
Multiple power outages came when wet snow and strong winds combined early on Thursday, Dec. 1, taking down trees that hit power lines in Highland Estates, and on Beach, FAA and Small Tracts roads, said Danny Gonce, power manager for Alaska Power and Telephone.
"As far as widespread outages go, that’s the worst I’ve seen here" in 10 years on the job, Gonce said. "(Snow) was sticking to everything and to the side of everything."
Areas north and south of Main Street lost power for about an hour at 2 a.m. when a tree pushed two primary distribution lines together near the Mount Ripinsky trailhead, breaking two insulators. While AP&T was working on that problem, a tree on a line just south of the private ferry dock tripped a breaker, shutting down other sections of town.
Lines also were hit on Anway Road, Black Bear Trail and Mount Riley Road.
The utility trimmed anticipated problem trees last summer, but other ones, located farther from lines, were ones that fell, Gonce said. He speculated that heavy snow that came without a hard freeze insulated soft ground, leaving trees heavy with snow susceptible to the wind. "It just levered them over."
The tops of other trees became missiles. "A good percentage of the trees we were dealing with had broken off pretty high up," Gonce said.
Similar weather pushed three trees down on Beach Road early Monday, Nov. 28, not far from the Battery Point trailhead. Working before daybreak, utility workers cut through two trees to reach the one that had caused the outage, when winds there put them in fear of injury.
"We could hear trees cracking all around us. At one point we jumped under the truck. It was not a good feeling," Gonce said.
Perhaps the strongest winds came about 2 a.m. Monday. AP&T wind speed readings weren’t available and the National Weather Service wind gauge at the airport wasn’t working, but Gonce said winds rocked his house.
"It kept me up. I’d wake up, look at the alarm clock and see the lights were still on, then I’d go back to sleep again," he said. That most trees had by then shed their snow loads may have limited damage, he said.
John Winge, who lives at .25 Mile Small Tracts Road, said the wind seemed to be coming from the west, as he’s protected by forest on the other three sides. It knocked down trees and blew snow shovels out of the back of his pickup truck, he said. "It was just a nasty wind."
On Second Avenue, a "Pioneer" sign atop the Pioneer Bar building blew apart. The plastic sign had been there at least 50 years, said owner Christy Tengs Fowler. "People were bringing in pieces from two blocks away."