The prolonged above average temperatures this January have wreaked havoc on side streets all around the central Kenai Peninsula and has locals wondering when winter weather will return.
During the first 22 days of January, the average high temperature measured at the Kenai Airport was 28 degrees, according to data from Accuweather.com. Alyson Hoegg, a meteorologist for Accuweather.com said Kenai’s average high for January is 11 percent above average for this time of year. On Monday, the highest temperature recorded was 43 degrees, Hoegg said.
National Weather Service meteorologist Doug Peterson said a jet stream set up in Northern Canada has brought warmer weather from the south to Alaska while blocking out the colder weather, which has blanketed the Northeastern U.S.
Peterson said the high-pressure situation hanging over Western North America happens all the time around this time of year, although the stretch of unseasonably warm weather may feel longer than what Alaskans are used to experiencing.
Kenai resident Megan Wohlers said while she is not complaining about the warmer weather, the effect it is having on the roads in her neighborhood is concerning.
Wohlers lives in the Woodland subdivision and said with all the rain and melting snow the streets have gotten icy overnight. She said the City of Kenai road maintenance response has not been as quick as last year.
“(The plow) will make one pass down the middle of the street then leave. It takes them forever to finish,” Wohlers said. “The response was good last year, but it makes me wonder how many plow trucks are there?”
Sean Wedemeyer, the Public Works Director for the City of Kenai, said the city has four graders and one plow and sand truck. With three new operators learning the snow removal routine, sanding intersections are the primary target because of the volume of traffic, he said. The routine in subdivisions is to go through one time and come back promptly to make sure the entire roadway is clear, he said.
Wedemeyer said being undermanned has made a big impact because snowpack can build up and go from solid ice to slush in warm temperatures in just one hour. He wants to remind Kenai residents to refrain from parking on residential streets and not to push snow into the roadway. Moving snow into the roadway can result in a $500 fine, he said.
Kenai City Manager Rick Koch said the street maintenance department has responded as quickly as possible being understaffed. The city lays sand down on the streets for traction but rain and changing weather washes it away and makes it difficult to stay on top of every area of the city simultaneously.
“When it warms up the snow pack on the bottom loosens up and makes mushy snow,” he said. “It doesn’t take much for a catch basin to get clogged.”
At last Wednesday’s Kenai City Council meeting, the council passed a resolution to transfer general funds to purchase a replacement plow truck for $18,053. An email dated Jan. 7 from Wedemeyer said the total requested would cover the cost to replace a truck that dropped through the ice and sank to the bottom of Daubenspeck Pond in December. At the Feb. 5 council meeting, the council should approve the purchase order for a second plow truck as a replacement, he said.
The road maintenance crew in Soldotna has found similar weather conditions difficult to manage.
Scott Sundberg, Soldotna street maintenance manager’ said the crew has already used 1,500 yards of sand this winter. By comparison, some entire winters they would only use only 2,000 yards.
The last four days he said the department’s emphasis has been widening the roads and clearing the sidewalks.
“It continues to be an ongoing challenge,” he said. “It goes from a hard pack of snow to slush then overnight the roads glass over to turn into a skating rink.”
Sundberg said the city has also resorted to removing the blocks of ice out in front of businesses intended to be sculpted for this weekend’s Peninsula Winter Games. He said the continued above average temperatures have melted the 8-foot high ice blocks enough causing some to begin to lean, creating a safety risk.
At the very least, the warm weather has given some a break on their heating bill, Sundberg said.
While it is one of the warmer stretches in recent memory, Peterson said it is too early to tell if it will be the warmest January in Alaska’s history. In 1949, the highest average temperature across Alaska was 38 degrees, he said. By the look of the forecast, it is unlikely the monthly average will top the record.
The National Weather Service forecast for the Kenai Peninsula region calls for clouds and scattered rain showers to continue through the weekend with daytime highs in the low to mid 40s and nighttime lows in the 30s.
Wohlers, 35, has lived in Alaska since she was 2 years old. She said in previous winters she remembers stretches of warm weather but this winter has been outside the norm.
“This is almost like a break from the long cold winters,” she said. “We get tricked into thinking winter is over, but the snow will be back.”
Reach Dan Balmer at firstname.lastname@example.org.