Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 4:07 PM on Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Homer digs out from storm


A plow truck cleared the parking lot at the Department of Fish and Game offices in Homer, but fish and wldlife technician Joe Loboy still needed a shovel to get to his vehicle.

Homer began to dig out on Wednesday from an early morning blizzard on Tuesday that shut down the lower Kenai Peninsula from Anchor Point to East End Road. Public schools, the Homer Public Library, many shops and cafes, and city offices were closed.

By daylight Wednesday, city snow plow operators working since 2 a.m. Tuesday had opened up all main roads and most subdivisions. State crews also cleared the Sterling Highway, Diamond Ridge, East End Road, Skyline Drive and other state maintained roads.

Although 3 to 5 inches of snow fell, it wasn't the snowfall that hammered Homer, but winds gusting up to 70 mph that whipped snow into drifts 5 feet high on Diamond Ridge and East Skyline drive.

On Wednesday, the National Weather Service issued another winter weather advisory for the Western Kenai Peninsula — but one that was to spare Homer. The advisory, in effect until 3 p.m. Thursday, called for 7 to 12 inches of snow north of Clam Gulch and 2 to 5 inches of snow south of Clam Gulch, with lows 10 to 20 above and southwest winds of 15 mph. By Friday, expect partly sunny skies with colder temperatures and the lows of zero to 10 above.

One drift got to 15 feet on East End Road near Hubbard Road, said Kachemak Emergency Services Chief Bob Cicciarella.

"It was a day, I'll tell ya," he said.

Homer City Manager Walt Wrede closed city offices for all but essential workers early Tuesday morning after speaking with Homer Police Chief Mark Robl.

"He said, 'Boss, it's bad,'" Wrede said of the phone call with Robl.

Wrede himself got stuck at his West Hill Road area home, although he said he contemplated skiing to town. Wrede kept in touch with city staff by phone and email. It was the first time in his nine years as city manager that Wrede totally closed city offices.

"The whole thing caught me by surprise," Wrede said. "I knew it was going to snow and blow a bit. When I got up at 5:30 a.m., I went, 'Oh, this is not business as usual here.'"

KES firefighters had a close call about 8 a.m. Tuesday when a report came in of a house filled with smoke on Diamond Ridge Road near Misty Ridge and Lofty Lane. Fortunately, a family of five escaped harm when the call turned out to be a woodstove chimney clogged by drifting snow.

"The guys had to wade through 6 foot drifts to get down the driveway," Cicciarella said. "We were really glad it didn't turn out to be something more."

Crews and an engine from the Ruth Way KES station off Diamond Ridge got to the home. Another Homer Volunteer Fire Department fire engine and crew provided mutual aid.

Typical of many Homer residents' morning was the sight Cicciarella saw when he opened his front door to respond to the fire call.

"The snow was about up to my eyes drifted up the door," he said. "I had to shovel out to get to my car."

No boats sank from snow loads at the Homer Harbor, although 12 boats were compromised, said Deputy Harbormaster Matt Clarke. Those boat owners were contacted and have mitigated the potential for sinking. Other boat owners responded to public announcements and have been checking boats.

A deep freeze followed by a thaw with heavy snow presented the worst combination of conditions for causing boats to sink. Plumbing on boats can get clogged up with ice that then thaws, opening entrances for sea water to get in. Heavy wet snow then creates pressure on the hull.

"You don't know you have a compromised boat until the thaw occurs," Clarke said.

Harbor and city maintenance workers made it out to the Homer Spit to relieve night shift crews — but just barely. Clarke said he got stuck three times driving in on Kachemak Drive.

By Wednesday harbor workers had cleared from 16 inches to 2 feet of snow.

"It was a real slow go at it," he said. "It was so heavy and wet it didn't blow off."

One office that did open was the Homer Courthouse. A jury trial scheduled to start at 1 p.m. Tuesday wasn't canceled, even though many of the 50 jurors called and said they couldn't make it in. Still, 15 jurors showed up, including two who drove in from Ninilchik, said Darcy Tredway, clerk of court. The defendant didn't make it, though, and with such a low jury pool, the trial was continued to Wednesday.

Wrede said Public Works road crews worked from 2 a.m. until at least 10 p.m. Tuesday clearing city streets. Snow plow operator Richard Gregoire said he got three hours of sleep on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning trying to keep his customers happy. The weather forecast was spot on, Gregoire said. His own truck got stuck about 3:30 a.m. Tuesday as he chained up.

"The drifts were totally over the top of my truck," he said.

Driving into town, Gregoire said he helped pulled out five or six cars stuck on East End Road between Kachemak Drive and town.

By Wednesday, Gregoire and other snow plow operators worked to clean up parking lots and take on customers without regular plow service who got overwhelmed by the snow. By the way the winter is going, they could be in for more work.

"We're pretty much on a record pace, well above average," said National Weather Service forecaster Michael Lawson of Anchorage.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.