Outages disrupt your life. Most of the time, they are short. However, when they last several days, they are beyond annoying. This article discusses what long lasting outages mean for the lifestyle in Interior Alaska and how to prepare to dress in the dark.
- What Is a Heavy Snowstorm in Alaska
- How Is the Snow in Interior Alaska?
- Why Outages Can Last Long at the Last Frontier
- How Do Snowstorms Affect the Lifestyle in Alaska?
- What I Did when We Had several Outages in a Row
- Why Are Outages Scary in the Interior in Winter
- No Electricity Means also No Internet
- How to Dress in the Dark
- Comparison to a 1989 Outage in Upstate New York
- Further Readings on Alaska Weather and its Impacts on Lifestyle
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What Is a Heavy Snowstorm in Alaska?
In the night from Tuesday to Wednesday in September 2015, Interior Alaska got its first snowstorm of the winter. It was a record breaking storm with 11.2 inch (28.4 cm) of snow measured at Fairbanks International Airport on Tuesday. This amount is the highest daily total ever recorded in Interior Alaska in September! The previous daily record in September was 7 inches (17.8 cm) in 1972.
The storm left over 15,000 households, i.e. more than one third of the Fairbanks metropolitan area households, without electricity. Some of my colleagues did not have their power back on Friday!
How Is the Snow in Interior Alaska?
When in fall a warm snow storm from the Bering Sea goes over the Interior of Alaska, it dumps a lot of wet snow. Temperatures are around the freezing point. At about 23F (-5oC), snow is very wet and sticky. Thus, it can accumulate very easily on twigs and won’t fall off. The trees even bend under the load of snow that just doesn’t slip off. Instead the snow behaves like a big blanket. See the photos of the snow blankets on the railing of our deck.
Wet snow is also heavier than dry snow because of the higher density of water than ice. Some of the trees just can’t hold the heavy load and break. Thus, many trees collapsed under the snow load and some of them down power lines.
The result: An outage.
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Why Outages Can Last Long at the Last Frontier
Even though the energy provider sent their crews out immediately to search for, and fix the interrupted lines, it takes time to locate and remove all the damage in an area of 32.7 square miles (86.4 km2). Furthermore, some power lines deliver electricity from the Eva Creek wind-power farm near Healy, 110 miles (177 km) bird route southwest of Fairbanks. The powerlines go through uninhabitated permafrost-underlain terrain with many creeks and lakes and no roads. This means travel on snow machines.
How Do Snowstorms Affect the Lifestyle in Alaska?
Fairbanksans are used to outages even though electricity is essential for furnaces to run, houses to stay habitable, water wells to function. Some have generators for such events. Some switch to heating and cooking on wood stoves, taking bucket baths of melted snow and getting water from the spring in Fox or other springs in the area. Others take shelter at family or friends’ houses who have power.
Every household has a collection of flash lights or re-chargeable LED lights. They re-charge the batteries at work, friends or family or where ever they find access to power.
What I Did when We Had several Outages in a Row
Many trees fell into power-lines. We had an outage during the night, which was fixed fast. Then we got several outages early in the morning. One of them lasted, but I had to go to work. Thus, I took my husband’s car repair lamp and put it into the bathroom while I took a shower. I made it short. Water on, getting wet. Water off. Put on soap, water on, rinsed off the soap, water off, out of the shower. Two minutes! Who knows how long the outage will stay? Thus, I wanted to save water.
I just wanted to save hot water. I still remember what it means to wash yourself with snow. But that was because we had no water.
Why Are Outages Scary in the Interior in Winter
After the snowfall, temperatures dropped. At an ambient air temperature of -4F (-20oC) the temperature in our house drops about 5F every hour when the furnace is off. Unfortunately, furnaces require electricity. When the house’s indoor temperature falls below the freezing point your water pipes will start freezing. Frozen water pipes may break as water extends when it freezes. Everyone probably has made that experience in summer. Putting a bottle of beer in the freezer and forgetting about it. LOL.During outages I'm afraid indoor temperatures could fall below the freezing point. Click To Tweet
So far, in our now over 16.5 years in Alaska, we had been lucky. The longest outage we had was about five hours. But we have friends who had been without power for a week or so.
No Electricity Means also No Internet
That’s the scariest for a fashion blogger. O.k., I’m exaggerating right now. Around New Year’s there were problems with our internet connection due to trees cutting lines. It’s amazing how one misses the internet today. You can’t even look up a telephone number without it. The communication fashion at the Last internet is so vulnerable.
Have you ever tried to dress when you can’t see the items in your closet? You need to touch everything to know which piece it is? I have sorted my clothes by item type, them by color, and pattern. This way, I don’t loose much time when dressing in general. The system avoids searching for an item. In case of an outage, you have a broard idea where the neutrals are. Thus, you can dress even when you don’t have a flash light.
The snow asks for high reaching footwear. Thus, booties with a shearling insole that are waterproof are great for the first snow in fall. Typically, early in the snow season snow is wet. On the contrary, when it gets colder – typically starting in November – snow has no liquid amount and it dry. Then lobben boots are a good choice. If you are not familiar with this type of shoes, you can learn more about lobben boots at this link.
Getting to Work when the Traffic Lights Are Down
Of course, we had to open the garage door by hand. But that’s not a big deal. However, when I approached the major road I saw that the traffic lights were out. “OMG,” I thought “how long will it take me to cross this major road during rush hour?” This time I was scared about the outage. I feared that I would stand there forever. However, in the Interior people are so friendly. The drivers on that major road stopped when they saw more than three cars in the small roads. They let them pass and then went on. People in the Interior are just fantastic. General support seems like an unwritten law.
The Outage in Upstate New York 1989
One day in summer of 1989, I came back to the apartment in the State University of New York at Albany student village at fuller Road. The sky was dark green and one of the seemingly every three days occurring summer thunder storms was grumbling about a mile or so away. Despite it was late in the afternoon, it seemed dark like dawn. I turned the key, the door squeaked as usual. “Thanks goodness, you are here.” I heard my apartment mate jelling. She sat on the couch and looked scared like she’d had an encounter with an alien or something like that. “What’s up? What happened? Are you ok?” I asked walking towards her. “No, I’m not! There’s an outage. No light, no TV. No micro-wave. It’s dark. I’m scared. What are you thinking why I’m sitting here with candles?” “The electricity will came back. Probably just a tree fell in the power-lines due to the gust front of the thunderstorm. Electricity will be back once they fixed it. Stay calm.” I said. She cried and her body was shaking. I remember I had a hard time trying to calm her down. Back then I didn’t understand why an outage did upset her that much. She was an adult, a 22 year old, straight A student. Why would anyone be scared of an outage?
What happens when there is an outage where you live? Have you ever had to take a shower or dress in the dark? Are you scared about outage? Can you imagine to be without power at below freezing temperatures without heating and water?
More on Alaska Weather and Its Impacts on Lifestyle
You can find other weather related posts like
- why students in Alaska have no snow days, but rain days,
- survival strategies when traveling in the wild of Alaska, and
- Alaska’s undeveloped rivers and their risks and opportunities.
Photos: G. Kramm
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