By McKibben Jackinsky
A white Christmas? No problem. The southern Kenai Peninsula definitely had a white Christmas.
Then again, a white Christmas turned out to be a big problem. Especially for more than 2,000 HEA members without power during parts of the holiday season, crews working long hours to restore power, harbor personnel and boat owners, and the city’s Public Works personnel to name a few.
According to the National Weather Service, there’s more rain and snow on the way.
“Cloudy with rain and snow,” was the frequently repeated phrase when Don Peterson of the NWS Alaska Region spoke with the Homer News on Monday.
As of 5 a.m. Wednesday, not much had changed except for the wording:
• Isolated snow and rain showers for Thursday;
• Cloudy with isolated snow showers for Thursday night;
• Mostly cloudy with scattered snow showers on Friday;
• Snow likely on Saturday;
• Cloudy with a chance of snow on Saturday night;
• Mostly cloudy with a chance of snow on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.
Along Kachemak Bay, winds are forecasted to hit 20 knots and seas as high as four feet with, you guessed it, rain and snow between now and Sunday.
“I would recommend boats be shoveled,” said Peterson.
Bryan Hawkins, Homer harbormaster, made the same recommendation.
“My comment would be that folks need to redouble their efforts for keeping their vessels clear of snow,” said Hawkins. “It can be dangerous to small vessels.”
Hawkins and his crew have made good use of the harbor’s fleet of seven snowblowers.
“Had some pretty rough conditions with weather, snow load, freezing, thawing and just about everything, and have had a lot of calls and lots of vessel owners that had to be called,” he said.
Local radio stations helped Hawkins broadcast messages to boat owners to pay close attention to their boats in the harbor.
“On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day we turned out to do snow removal because we had nearly two feet on the floats,” he said. “We couldn’t leave it there. The fear, of course, is rain on snow. So we had to get a jump on it.”
Unable to use salt or sand that might get into the water, harbor personnel’s best defense is to remove snow off docks and floats as soon as possible.
Press releases from HEA spokesperson Joe Gallagher read like a diary with almost hourly updates in the past week as crews struggled to repair multiple outages due to heavy snowfalls. The longest lasting outage was on the south side of Kachemak Bay and began Christmas Eve. Although emergency stand-by generators were put into service, 550 members remained without power and winter storms kept crews from being able to access the source of the outage.
On Christmas Day, approximately 2,000 HEA members at some point during the day had a power outage in areas that included Nikiski, Sterling, Kasilof, Soldotna, Anchor Point and Homer. Most of those outages were restored by the following morning.
“Then we returned our attention back to the Seldovia area,” said Gallagher.
On Dec. 26 and Dec. 27, HEA workers went from pole to pole, looking for the course of the power outage. Finally, about 1 a.m. Dec. 28, the outage had been corrected, but winds that night knocked it out again.
“At 3:30 p.m. (Dec. 28) we were back on full station power,” said Gallagher.
During the outage “the folks in Seldovia were really great,” he said. “They were really understanding.”
On Sunday, 593 members in the Kasilof and K-Beach Road area lost power due to a broken insulator.
“We finished up making repairs at 3:35 p.m. and everyone was back on,” said Gallagher.
On New Year’s Eve, HEA was having a quiet day.
“I’m just sitting around in my pajamas. Today’s been pretty good so far,” Gallagher said.
Road crews with the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities battled frozen culverts on Tuesday. City of Homer Public Works personnel have been doing the same, said Carey Meyer, Public Works director.
“Fun is not the proper adjective to be using,” said Meyer. “Whenever you get two to three feet of snow over a couple of days and then it immediately starts raining, you expect to have some unusual events occur.”
It didn’t help that the city’s two main graders were sidelined for repairs. Other equipment was put into service and “we had people working on Christmas trying to make the roads as safe as possible,” Meyer said. “We’ve got the steamer out nonstop keeping culverts open and water where it’s supposed to be.”
Sunday night, flooding at the sewer treatment plant created “the worst event” Meyer said he has been aware of.
“Right or wrong, good or bad, a lot of people have roof drains and sump pumps connected to the sanitary sewer which really isn’t a good thing. So, there are times when we get a lot more water going to the sewer treatment plant than we can deal with,” said Meyer.
Sunday night was one of those times and water had to be diverted to a lagoon.
For now, city crews are “sanding, sanding, sanding,” said Meyer. “And it’s more of the same for the rest of the week, rain and snow. We’ll be scraping slush off the roads and keeping drainages open. I’m sure we’ll see more snow as we go along.”
McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at email@example.com.