A big storm blew through southern Southeast on Tuesday, toppling trees and leading to extensive power outages. All morning flights at Ketchikan International Airport were cancelled, and local schools called off classes due to wind.
The Ketchikan School District doesn’t cancel school very often.
“I think it’s been seven years. It could be six years. Six years ago, we closed school for one day,” said Superintendent Robert Boyle, who made that rare decision to cancel classes for the first time in six years as hurricane-force winds howled through Alaska’s First City.
He said it was a question of safety.
“Little children can be standing alongside the road and the wind was blowing hard enough this morning to literally blow them out into the street,” he said. “Then of course flying debris, tree branches, trash can lids, shingles off of houses, a number of things that get blown around in the weather like it was this morning, not to mention the road conditions being impassible. So, you can’t drive to school, it’s too dangerous to walk. It’s best to stay home.”
Not all roads were blocked by trees, but there were quite a few that went down, many taking out power lines as they fell.
One of those hit the Creek Street boardwalk, just missing two historic structures in Ketchikan’s former red light district. It crushed a small stand that stood next to Dolly’s House, former home to one of Ketchikan’s most famous and notorious women.
The tree also caused a propane tank to leak, which delayed cleanup.
Ketchikan Public Utilities Electric Division Manager Andy Donato said that KPU turned off power to downtown on purpose, at the request of the fire department, because a spark could have ignited the leaking propane.
They later isolated power to the two buildings on either side of the downed tree, and turned the lights back on for the rest of downtown.
By mid-afternoon, Donato said Forest Park was one of the few neighborhoods still without
power. On that road, numerous trees had fallen into lines, and those lines were on the ground much of the day, waiting for crews to finish work elsewhere. But, Donato said once the linemen get started, it shouldn’t take long.
“You’d be surprised how fast they can string wire up,” he said. “So, I have an expectation of them. I think we’re going to have the majority of that work behind us by 5 o’clock.”
Ketchikan International Airport’s Flight Service station recorded gusts of 70 knots, or 80 mph, on the runway. On the airport roof, gusts reached 86 knots, or 98 mph.
Donato said that the work linemen can do is limited when the wind is blowing that strong.
“If it’s 80 mph gusting, you’re not going to go up in a bucket truck and extend that bucket,” he said. “So, they do low-level work. Clean up. And as available, they start working with the stuff they need to get to as the wind velocities drop.”
While windy, it didn’t rain much by Ketchikan standards. The flight service reported that rainfall since midnight totaled about 1.3 inches.
Jonathan Garner is a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Juneau. He said the storm was the result of a strong low pressure system that hit the southernmost part of Southeast first.
“We’re expecting strong winds to spread northward across Petersburg and then Juneau, eventually Skagway later this evening,” he said.
Garner said the storm developed south of Alaska.
“We had an upper level disturbance move up from the Northeast and it caused low pressure at the surface to rapidly deepen as it moved across Haida Gwaii,” he said. “The storm system has continued to lift northward along the coast. It’s currently beginning to weaken.”
There was some wind over on Prince of Wales Island, too, but Craig City Administrator Jon Bolling said it wasn’t a big deal.
“It blew hard this morning, but I don’t think there were any particular difficulties that resulted from it,” he said. “We kept our power and I’ve had zero reports of damage locally here in Craig and I’ve heard of none in other parts of Prince of Wales. We tend to be better organized over here.”
He meant that as a joke.