A sunken boat, avalanches, and a big freeze hits Juneau and Southeast Alaska

Thane Road, pictured here Monday, Jan. 3, 2022, will be closed until Tuesday due to the high...
Thane Road, pictured here Monday, Jan. 3, 2022, will be closed until Tuesday due to the high risk of more avalanches.(KTUU)
Published: Jan. 3, 2022 at 4:49 PM AKST
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JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) - Juneau was hit by a series of small avalanches on Sunday that closed the road to Thane and knocked out power for residents.

Alaska Electric Light & Power restored power on Monday afternoon. The road is set to be closed until Tuesday due to the high risk of more avalanches.

Tom Mattice, Juneau’s emergency manager, released a report on Monday, describing how several drivers ignored the closed road signs and got stuck in the avalanche path.

“This is a very serious concern as you are placing your life at risk,” Mattice said. “Please honor road closures for your safety and the safety of the first responders.”

#Juneau Thane Road 1/4/22 8 a.m. UPDATE: ROAD IS OPEN!! Avalanche debris has been removed from the roadway along Thane Road in #Juneau and is now open. Avalanche hazard still exists for the roadway and the DOT&PF reminds travelers to obey posted warning signs on Thane Road - do not stop or park in the avalanche zone. 1/3/22 noon UPDATE: Thane Road remains closed. High winds continue to transport snow in upper elevation start zones and small avalanches have been observed along Thane road this morning. We will continue to monitor and will make additional updates as conditions change. Winds are forecasted to decrease overnight. This morning DOT&PF M&O crews were able to remove debris to allow AEL&P access to start restoring power Stranded vehicles were also removed from the roadway. Debris was estimated to be 3-4' deep. Please check back for updates.

Posted by Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities on Monday, January 3, 2022

Thane Road is notorious for avalanches and so is the Behrends Avenue area. Multiple avalanches were observed coming off Mt. Juneau and officials recommend residents stay away from popular hiking trails in the avalanche path.

Robert Barr, Juneau’s deputy city manager, said a concern for crews in the Thane area is the risk of secondary avalanches. He said mitigation work, and possibly controlled avalanches, are being planned.

The impact of the winter weather is not limited to the land. On New Year’s Day, a fishing boat broke free from its moorings in Statter Bay and sank.

Carl Uchytil, Juneau’s port director, said the Angela K, a 35-foot wooden troller, is in water 95 to 120 feet deep. City and state officials are monitoring to ensure there’s no environmental damage caused by the sinking.

In the Aurora Harbor near downtown Juneau, boat owners came on Monday to brush heavy snow off their boats and check on heaters.

Kevin Murphy owns the Wilbur, a small pleasure craft. He said the snow over the weekend was packed down by the strong winds.

“She’s going to make it,” he said of the Wilbur.

Juneau, and Southeast Alaska in general, has been hit by a series of weather systems this winter delivering big snowfalls. But temperatures have been low, seeing little snow melt.

A free-thaw pattern is common for Juneau, but not this year. Gregory Spann, a Juneau-based meteorologist from the National Weather Service, summarized the winter for Juneau as “a whole lot of systems, but not a whole lot of thawing.”

“It’s definitely a reminder of what a big Alaska winter can deliver,” he said. “System after system, snowstorm after snowstorm.”

High wind warnings are in effect on Monday in Juneau, Haines and Skagway, dropping temperatures as low as -40 degrees with wind chill. Through the rest of the week, the weather service is forecasting that temperatures drop into the single digits.

“It’s going to get bitterly cold for Southeast Alaska standards,” Spann said.

Another storm system is forecast, likely hitting Juneau over the weekend, bringing snow and possibly rain. A thaw could then be on the horizon.

There are high snow berms across Juneau and many unplowed roads. Plowing was delayed on Monday.

Barr said the City and Borough of Juneau, and the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, are working around the clock to clear Juneau’s roads. Both have staffing shortages, making that work difficult to finish.

Hydaburg water back operating again

The City of Hydaburg has its municipal water system operating again after it went offline last Tuesday due to freezing temperatures. Crews worked around the clock to fix it before another big freeze was forecast to hit the small Southeast community early this week.

Mayor Anthony Christianson said there is still work to do to pressurize the system and restore water service to some residents, but most have access to water. Craig and Klawock workers came to help and repair the system along with regional and local tribal organizations.

“We were fortunate to get all that community support,” Christianson said.

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