John Hagen
Haines Harbormaster Shawn Bell and son Luke clear snow from the floats of the Haines Small Boat Harbor Saturday Jan. 26, 2020.

Sunday’s 23.5-inch snowfall was a 24-hour record for the Chilkat Valley, according to NOAA forecaster Caleb Cravens. The previous record was set in 2004 with 22 inches.

Downtown Haines received more than 50 inches of snow over the weekend and into Monday, which prompted the borough to issue a “public safety emergency” and close the school, library, pool and museum. Klukwan School also was closed.

“The borough tried to model the behavior that we would want from other businesses and organizations,” said borough manger Debra Schnabel. “In other words, sit back and let public works do their job and hunker down and take care of our property rather than get out and challenge the elements.”

Borough staff were paid for the day, despite the closures, and the borough contracted with Southeast Roadbuilders to assist in clearing snow from the roads.

“It’s expensive to do that,” Schnabel said. “Yes, people were paid for not working but at the same time I think that we saved in terms of safety and minimizing the risk if they were out on the streets.”

Haines School administrators announced Sunday afternoon that the school would close Monday, Jan. 27 for the first time in recent memory, superintendent Roy Getchell said. Getchell said he conferred with Schnabel and other borough department heads before making the decision to close the school for what he called a “shovel day.”

“We have had several early releases, but to everybody’s recollection the last closure was in 2012,” Getchell said. “That seems the be the winter all others are compared to.”

A record 360 inches of snow fell in 2012. “Since 2012 we’ve really not seen a normal snowfall,” Cravens said. “We haven’t seen over 100 inches since 2017.”

Until now that is. The Haines townsite has received 134 inches so far this winter, approaching the annual average of 145 inches since 2000.

The borough downgraded the public safety emergency to that of “vigilant concern” Tuesday as public works and a private contractor continued snow removal.

Public facilities director Ed Coffland said public works crews were operating four vehicles for 10 to 12 hours over the weekend and through Wednesday to clear snow. Southeast Roadbuilders was hired to haul snow to the fairgrounds parking lot.

“The snow’s really wet and heavy,” Coffland said as rain fell Wednesday. “It’s hard to handle.”

Snowfall for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday totalled 37.2 inches, the third highest three-day snowfall since NOAA began tracking back in 2000, NOAA meteorologist Edward Liske said. The last time Haines received this much snow in a three-day period was January 2010.

Snowfall was even deeper along the highway. On Saturday and Sunday, the weather station at the border measured 40 inches, the second highest two-day total ever measured, Liske said. The record high was 46 inches in January 2012.

Mosquito Lake resident Jim Stanford said his neighborhood received about 5 feet of snow in three days during the storms. It’s been crazy. Last night we got a foot. It’s soaking wet snow,” Stanford said on Wednesday. “Everybody’s been shoveling roofs and trying to dig out. We haven’t had this for years. Wherever you go you see neighbor helping neighbors, people shoveling roofs and helping each other dig out their cars.”

Harry Rietze said he saw five vehicles trapped by snowdrifts Saturday outside his home on Mud Bay Road near the cannery. Reitze helped dig out a vehicle and wrap chains on a driver’s car tires. An Alaska DOT loader cleared the road and drifts Saturday night.

Ceri Godinez
Haines resident Ashley Pugh and husky Yoda wade through snow berm outside house Sunday morning.

Mud Bay resident Sharon Svenson said she was home when the snow fell and didn’t have to worry about the drifts. “I couldn’t even get out of my driveway so I didn’t even try,” Svenson said.

Cravens said residents should expect more low-pressure systems with snow this week, and through the winter. “We’re looking at an active weather pattern with multiple low-pressure systems. We’re definitely seeing the potential for more snowfall in the coming month.”

Haines Home Building staff said they sold about 20 roof rakes and snow shovels on Sunday. “Ice melts are going out the door and what’s left of the shovel population,” a staff member said.

Lutak Lumber owner Chip Lende said by Tuesday afternoon he’d sold out of snow shovels. He said a handyman reported four metal chimneys being torn off residents’ roofs when snow loads shed.