Wednesday, November 24, 2010

My report on the Great Fairbanks Ice Storm of 2010

So Monday morning, as feared, I woke up to warm weather, exactly around thaw temperatures. Still somewhat clueless, I dressed lightly and headed out for my morning run. It was okay on the side streets, but as soon as I set foot onto the main road (Cripple Creek), I splatted onto the floor like Bambi on the pond. Then, for the life of me, I could not stand up. Arms and legs went every which way. Finally, the dogs dragged me to the side of the road, where I could get purchase in the soft snow and get my feet back under me.

When I got home, I called my adviser and informed him I would not be going in that day. Then I turned on the radio, called a few friends, and realized the extent of the storm. Rain had fallen and was continuing to fall, coating the world with a slick of ice. Within a few hours, my car, driveway, trees, and pretty much entire world had been covered with a crystalline sheet of ice.

In the meantime, I decided to make a snowman! The upside of warm snow! Yay!

The girls, as usual, were uncooperative with photos. "I need to clean the top of my head!" "I need to kiss you!"

Here I am, having given up on them:

I was pleased, and looked forward to the snowman hanging out in my yard all winter. Unfortunately, it was too warm even for that, and a few hours later, her head rolled off. I retrieved the carrot for Millie, but my hat was nowhere to be seen. We have no wind, and there were no human nor moose tracks near it. I suspect a raven. What excellent nesting material a straw hat will make!

Later that day, the radio reports indicated that the town was shutting down--first the school district and the University canceled classes, then it was announced that governmental offices would close, too. The highway patrol advised that no-one travel unless absolutely necessary. The mayor of Nenana phoned in to announce a similar situation in Nenana, and to tell his townsfolk to remain home. I thought that was amusing, that the mayor of Nenana communicates with his people by calling the local country music station. Radio announcers were comparing the current situation with historic ice storms (ours was worse than '92, but not as bad as '37).

Since it was Monday, and I generally run errands and take care of stuff for the week on weekends, I had plenty of food, water, dog food, and clean clothes. I figured if I ran out of water, I could always get water from neighbors with a well, so I didn't worry about that at all. I just settled down for a boring day. I have plenty of leisure reading, but it seems the older I get, the less patience I have for sitting still, even when I am enjoying my reading. I cuddled with the girls.

It occurred to me that if it continued to rain and ice built up on the power lines, we might lose power, so I ate all my ice cream. Yeah!

By the end of the day, reports indicated that five school buses had gone off the road, and there were several multi-car pile-ups on the roads. Flights into and out of Fairbanks had been canceled.

The thing that gave me cognitive dissonance is that when people think of harsh weather in Alaska, they think of bitter cold, howling winds, and piles of snow. They don't realize that we have no wind, and we are for the most part well-prepared for cold. It's mid-winter warmth that's a big problem. So there I was, in my jeans and light sweater, perfectly comfortable, warm and safe and in absolutely no danger, yet talking and hearing talk of this harsh and horrendous ice storm that was beating us up! It didn't feel like harsh weather at all. The rain was light, the air was warm. It's funny how the biting cold of a normal winter's day doesn't cause even a tenth so many problems as a warm day and a gentle rain.

At the end of the day, the weather prediction was that Tuesday would be just as bad, but temperatures would drop Tuesday evening, and we'd all be safe again. School and the University canceled classes for Tuesday as well. Late that night, my power began to flicker off and on, and it finally flickered out for good shortly before midnight. Good thing I had eaten all my ice cream! I turned off the lights, so they wouldn't blind me should power return in the middle of the night, opened the venetian blinds of one window to let in some light from the waning gibbous moon, and went to bed. By morning, power was restored, but the weather folks, in their infinite optimism, informed us that, oops, they had miscalculated, it would be warm for another day, and temperatures would not drop until Wednesday evening.

Another day of cabin fever! I put on my yaktrax, took the girls for a long walk, made two batches of cookies, finished the very heartbreaking novel I had been reading, visited a few of the neighbors bearing cookies, scored several invitations to Thanksgivings in the neighborhood, in case I couldn't make it to my planned one due to the weather, and shoveled the slush off my driveway, to minimize the ice buildup when temperatures finally would drop below freezing again. One of my neighbors decided to use the day to repair our block of mailboxes that had gotten wiped out by a car sliding off the road, and I helped him restore them into the ground, when he was done. Also scored a shower at his house. All in all, not a bad day, although being a person who is active by nature, I still found it excruciating.

The city of Fairbanks doesn't have salt for the roads, because it's normally too cold for salt to be of use. But they have plenty of gravel, and the gravel truck came and generously sprinkled the main road. The highways and main roads in town got plowed while they were soft. The power flickered off and on throughout the evening, and later that night, rain began to sprinkle again. I was very upset and felt that the angels were crying.

It seems the longer I live closer to nature, the more superstitious and religious I feel about things like weather, and trees, and rivers. Being sheltered from such things in the San Francisco area, it was easy for me to be a completely straight-laced scientist, but here, I take nature more personally. I remember one time skiing on the Tanana; the wind was at my back, so I hadn't realized how cold it was, but when I turned around to come back home, it bit at my face and threw loose grains into the patch of exposed skin on my cheekbones. I was so cold and felt the reality and depth of the trite phrase "Nature's wrath." I felt that the Tanana river gods were assaulting me, and I really took it personally. So, too, did I feel personally assaulted last night as the soft rain fell, creating more ice. But of course, that makes no sense at all!

This morning, I woke up to temperatures below freezing again, and falling snow, that remained frozen even as it hit the ground! Yay! Weather Gods, would it be too much to ask that you bring us another several feet of snow to replace what you ruined, and refreeze Rosie Creek so I can ski across it again soon? Thank you!

Here are some reports:

This one has video of people playing on the ice. It very funnily says, "Here are four videos posted on YouTube by people in Fairbanks enjoying their ice time and showing no fear of falling, meaning they are young."

Icepocalypse! Note that one of the featured photos in this article is of a car driving through a puddle. Liquid water? Outdoors? What is that? Take a photo and put it in the headlines!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! Here is my favorite piece of Thanksgiving reading, ever. It'll only take a moment of your time, so please enjoy. From Jon Carroll, a columnist with my hometown rag with a run of several decades thus far. He closes with:

And the final bead on the string is for this very Thanksgiving, this particular Thursday, and the people with whom we will be sharing it. Whoever they are and whatever the circumstances that have brought us together, we will today be celebrating with them the gift of life and the persistence of charity in a world that seems bent on ending one and denying the other.

Thanks. A lot.


Rena said...

Happy Thanksgiving, Arvay. I got your msg but was unable to call you back because the Barbarians have been real Barbarians lately. I think it has to do with spending more time indoors, thanks to the recent rain.

I'm glad you're safe and sound and have lots of Thanksgiving activities and invites to keep you busy.

I'm making a handful of vegetarian dishes for Thanksgiving tonight while it's peaceful (#2 might wake up soon though as she usually does). The younger of the girls across the street is choosing to be a vegetarian for the holiday season and I'm happy to oblige- it's all about the sides for me anyways. Looking forward to hearing what interesting dishes you see/cook for Thanksgiving!

Debs said...

Interestingly, we are having far colder weather for normal this time of year - it's been at least 17 years since we had as much snow over as much of the UK as this.

b said...

Can't you just put your ice cream outside to prevent it from melting?

Arvay said...

Not when temperatures are above freezing, which they are during a warm weather spell. In fact, if temps had NOT been above freezing, we would not have had any problems!