Peninsula to get break from cold

Posted: Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Bitter cold continued to grip the Kenai Peninsula from Homer to Whittier over the past week, but forecasters were predicting daytime temperatures in the 20s by today and into the30s later in the week, bringing high winds and several inches of snow.

That will be welcome relief from the frigid air that has hovered over much of Alaska for the past couple of weeks.

"It was a really unusual weather pattern," said National Weather Service meteorologist David Vonderheide on Monday.

A high-pressure pattern started the cold conditions about two weeks ago, he said. As that drifted westward, it was replaced by low pressure aloft that trapped a cold air mass over Southcentral Alaska and kept it here. Even more unusual, Vonderheide said, was that clouds didn't accompany the low pressure.

"Every night when the sun went down, the heat would radiate into space," he said.

It was extremely cold over the weekend. In Kenai, temperatures hit a low of minus 21 degrees Fahrenheit on Thursday night, and minus 30 Friday. Saturday, the thermometer fell even further hitting minus 31. The high for that day was minus 4.

Things were even colder in Soldotna. Thursday's low of minus 26 hit minus 29 on Friday and minus 33 Saturday and Sunday.

Monday, the high altitude low-pressure zone began splitting in two, with one part heading west, the other east. That left a gap into which came winds from the south that brought the high clouds and warmer air, resulting in snow.

The comparatively warmer temperatures are expected to continue into the middle of next week, Vonderheide said.

According to Monday forecasts, wind gusts of up to 40 mph and three to six inches of snow were predicted by tonight, with snow continuing into Wednesday for parts of the peninsula.

Nobody was complaining about the recent cold snap at Homer Electric Association, primarily because it came accompanied by calm air and little snow.

More often than not, HEA crews find themselves braving the elements as they repair lines downed by gale-force winds and heavy snow loads like those that prevailed just prior to the cold snap.

"No, the cold hasn't created any significant problems," said HEA spokesperson Joe Gallagher. "It's actually been nice and quiet. We'll take cold weather over strong winds anytime."

Electric ratepayers aren't seeing any jumps in price because HEA, which purchases the power it delivers to consumers, has contracts with Chugach Electric Association that will run through 2013. HEA customers, however, could see bills change if the price of natural gas to Chugach changes, Gallagher said.

Where customers might expect to see significant wintertime fluctuations in heating costs is in fuel oil. But that hasn't been the case, at least not at the two home heating oil suppliers called by the Peninsula Clarion on Monday.

Russell Cooper, plant manager at Petro Marine Services in Homer, said demand has been up because of the cold, but their current price for 200 gallons of No. 1 fuel oil is $1.38 per gallon, 2 cents lower than it was in September and 7 cents lower than in June of last year. Petro Marine bases its rate on what they must pay suppliers.

"We go off what the refineries charge," Cooper said. "We have a margin and that's what it stays at."

Petro Marine buys its fuel in Anchorage or Nikiski, depending where it can find the best price, Cooper said.

The cost of oil has drifted up and down over the past six months at Doyles Fuel Service in Kenai, which also tries to maintain a desirable profit margin, said Gloria Ely, office manager.

"Two hundred gallons in June was $1.44 per gallon," she said. "On Sept. 10, it was $1.55. Now it's $1.47."

Doyles buys its fuel from Tesoro.

Many Petro Marine and Doyle customers are on automatic billing schedules. Delivery trucks show up periodically based on usage patterns established in the recent past say over the past couple of winters.

But the last couple of winters have been unusually warm, skewing the data a bit, said Cooper. Tanks are running low at a more rapid rate as stoves and boilers try to keep up with the frigid air.

"We are running out (to deliver fuel) more on the weekends and evenings these days," he said.

"When the weather gets cold, we go out a little bit more often," Ely said. "When someone calls in and it's this cold, we go take care of them."

Homeowners enjoying toasty temperatures indoors, thanks to their energy supply, may be treating unwanted wintertime guests to the same luxuries.

At this time of year, and especially when the thermometer plunges deep, small mammals with the wherewithal to burrow or squeeze, find their way inside.

Joe Kole, owner of Kenai Pest Raiders, has a bit of advice.

"Make sure your doors fit good," he said. "Now, that may seem like a bit of a no-brainer, but there may be enough of a gap. A shrew can fit through a gap three-eighths of an inch wide."

Check around pipes to sinks and lavatories. The bigger the gap in the woodwork around a pipe the easier is the access for tiny creatures trying to avoid freezing. Also, check that pet door, as well as the dryer vent to the outside, Kole said.

Wood stacked next to the house often can provide a hiding place for small creatures, but more importantly, a place to work unseen. Creatures that can chew can work their way through a wall given enough time and incentive, he said.

If you think you may have visitors, check for droppings, or perhaps a fresh pile of chewings such as Sheetrock dust. Look for a small round or oval hole. Some critters may not be able to start a hole, Kole said, but many can enlarge one that already exists.

If you've got them, fight back. The old-fashioned mousetrap works, Kole said.

"However, I tell people, whatever the pest a shrew, a mouse, insects, whatever don't let it go too long," he said.

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