Deep freeze, lack of snow keeps plumbers, towing companies busy

Posted: Tuesday, December 04, 2001

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- Dhana Krause doesn't expect to see much of her husband until it warms up. That's a fact of life when you own a pumping and thawing business in Fairbanks.

''If we don't get some snow pretty soon, it's going to mean some long nights,'' said Krause, who helps her husband, Kirk, run Bigfoot Pumping and Thawing. ''We've been extremely busy in the last week. We've been thawing water pipes nonstop. Mostly people who live in trailers and don't have that snow around them to insulate things.''

Fairbanks is already suffering through one of its driest winters ever with on ly 9.5 inches of snow, and Mother Nature added to that misery this week by unleashing the season's first cold snap.

The lack of snow, combined with the cold, does not bode well for water pipes, septic tanks and leach fields, which benefit from the insulation that two feet of snow usually provides by now.

The effects of that snow drought and the season's first serious cold weather were just starting to be felt on Monday.

''We've been swamped all day with emergency calls,'' reported Marty Sager at Chandler Plumbing and Heating.

The bad news is that things probably won't get any better any time soon. There is no snow in the forecast, and temperatures are supposed to turn even colder later in the week.

The high temperature at Fairbanks International Airport on Monday was 29 below, and the National Weather Service is predicting the first 40-below temperatures in two years by the end of the week.

In fact, there's a good chance Fairbanks will experience cold convergence this week. That's the point where Celsius and Fahrenheit temperatures are equal, or 40 degrees below zero.

There is no end in sight for the winter's first cold snap, either.

A large mass of cold air centered in the high arctic is moving south and will take up residence over the Interior beginning Wednesday, said meteorologist Jim Brader at the weather service in Fairbanks.

''We've got a big, cold low in the high arctic about 300 miles north of Barter Island, and it's going to move down right over us basically,'' Brader said. ''That's going to pull some colder air down to us.''

That could mean temperatures dipping to 40 below or colder at night starting on Wednesday, Brader said.

It would mark the first time in two years the temperature has hit 40 below in Fairbanks. Last year, the third-warmest on record in Fairbanks, the coldest temperature recorded at Fairbanks International Airport was 36 below, on Dec. 2.

''We don't know how long it's going to last,'' Brader said of the cold snap. ''When something like this drops down it's going to be cold for a while.''

That's good news for cold-related businesses such as towing, thawing and plumbing.

''We do a lot more towing when it gets cold,'' said Bob Weaver at Ron's Towing. ''Cars don't run as good when it gets cold.''

Weaver said people shouldn't drive their cars unless they have to and that vehicles should be plugged at all times when they're not running.

While the phone wasn't ringing off the hook at Gabe's Truck and Auto Repair on Monday, there was a steady flow of customers, said garage owner Cathy Gabriel.

''Towing has picked up quite a bit,'' Gabriel said. ''We've had a few more jump starts.''

While the cold weather means more business, that doesn't mean the people who make money as a result are happy to see it.

''We don't like to see it happen,'' Weaver said. ''It makes everything harder. You can't keep up with customers, and people inevitably get upset when they have to wait.''

Added Gabriel: ''We've got plenty of business to keep us busy without the cold. We don't like it any more than the next guy.''

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