Warm weather woes wreak havoc in Nome
By Diana Haecker
A week of several freeze and thaw cycles left Nome and the region with puddles on ice and scenes that look more like breakup in spring rather than the customary snowy landscape of December. The rain on ice interrupted normal life in Nome. On Wednesday and Friday, the start of school was delayed as was the opening of Norton Sound Regional hospital on Friday. Businesses opened late or closed early, planes were delayed and with that, the itinerant veterinarian’s travel to conduct the December Vet clinic was delayed as well. On Sunday, wind entered the equation and slapping power lines, heavy under the built-up ice, caused temporary power outages.
A wild thaw and freeze cycle
According to weather data, November saw a total of 11 days with high temperatures at or above freezing. Climate Specialist Rick Thoman with the Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy at the International Arctic Research Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, said that the average November – based on data of the past 50 years – has eight days with temperatures at or above freezing. Last year, a particularly cold November, there were only two days with temperatures at or above 32°F. But this November and the early days of December were unusually warm. Nome is on track to break another average: The average number of days at or above freezing in December are five. Five days into December 2022, Nome already had four days of above freezing temperatures.
The first thaw cycle happened November 5 through Nov. 10 with high temps between 31°F and 35°F. The next warm spell occurred on Nov. 15 with high temps of 30°F, culminated with a whopping 38°F high on Nov. 17 with rain falling and it didn’t cool off until Nov. 21 when the high temperature reached 30°F. Following were eight days of cooler temperatures hovering in the teens and twenties, but on Nov. 30 the heat was back with a high temperature of 32°F, followed by four more days of warmth culminating in a high Sunday, Dec. 4 with 36°F. These warm temperatures were accompanied by rainfall on snow and ice, causing ice to accumulate on every surface. Willows and trees were encased in ice, their branches bending over in arches. Cars sported a layer of ice like a snug-fitting shell. Power and communication lines sagged under the weight of inch-thick ice.
And then came the wind.
Peak winds reached gusts up to 46 mph on Sunday with high sustained Southeast winds of 37 mph slapped powerlines around while pelting rain hit windows. Over the weekend, nearly an inch of rain fell in Nome.
For days, visibility was very limited as it seemed that clouds were at ground level and the air was saturated with moisture in form of a constant drizzle. Planes were canceled. Travel was difficult and roads were slick. This hampered daily life.
Nome Joint Utilities line crews were out to fix several downed powerlines.
Friday night NJUS Manager John Handeland posted an update on Facebook that a wire was removed from 1st Avenue and Spokane. A low-hanging communication line was at Kings and F Street was marked. A power service line was down, blocking 5th Avenue and N Street. He issued a warning to not drive under the line and asked people for patience as the crew will get there once the broken pole near the Lynden and Ryan terminal is fixed. On Tuesday, after weather had calmed down, Handeland said in an email to the Nugget that drizzle and temperatures just at freezing “wreaked a bit of havoc with both power and communications lines in Nome.” Ice weighed heavy on the wires. “When coupled with the winds, it caused power phases to come together resulting in visible sparking and caused fuses to blow,” he said. “The majority of town only saw some slight momentary fluctuations as the lines slapped and not a total blackout.” The line crew knocked ice off the lines before the winds picked up, but they iced up again quickly. “There were also a couple of outages as a result of residential service lines pulling loose from the support on the house that broke meter base masts that allowed lines to come near or to the ground blocking traffic in isolated areas,” reported Handeland. “Many reports of ‘lines down’ were actually phone or TV cables, but we encourage folks to stay clear of any line until it can be confirmed it is not electric.”
The outlying areas of Tripple Creek, Dexter and Banner Creek saw a power outage lasting from the late afternoon until almost 10 p.m.
For the future, Handeland said that if your power goes out, please look around to see if the neighborhood is also out. “If you’re the only one, call the utility 443-6321. If it looks like a bigger area, we don’t need every person to call. We encourage you to wait a bit (up to a half hour) before making a call. This allows personnel to work toward outage resolution without having to stop to answer multiple phone calls.”
Handeland said that this town is fortunate that the power generation is highly reliable and that the line crew regularly performs preventative maintenance so the system can withstand a bit of weather abuse. “But, there will be instances where lines shake loose, and in one case this weekend, a pole cracked with added weight from ice. The guys work as quickly as they safely can, so some amount of patience is required,” he said.
The strong southeast wind has blown ice from eastern Norton Sound to Nome and chunks of rotten looking ice accumulated on Monday at shoreline in front of Nome. Monday night saw high winds with gusts up to 39 mph and drifting snow.