Unprecedented storm stirs trouble for Interior Alaska

Published: Jul. 27, 2022 at 9:34 AM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - Starting Monday, July 25, the Interior of Alaska endured an unprecedented wind storm that caused damage to plants and property along with generating massive power outages.

“Early yesterday (Monday) afternoon, we started to see a lot of outages in the Healy, Nenana and Delta Junction area, and as we saw the wind move into Fairbanks and the Interior more we started to see those outages spread. About two thirds of our members were impacted across the Interior,” said Meadow Bailey, a spokesperson for Golden Valley Electric Association (GVEA).

Most of the outages were caused by trees falling onto power lines, some of which also caused fires. All of the fires were put out before growing beyond 2 acres in size.

One of the most impactful outages was an outage that occurred at the Fairbanks Emergency Communication Center. The center, which handles 911 dispatch calls, is normally backed up by a generator. But this time the generator failed, leaving people unable to reach the center by phone. Residents were still able to call 911 however as the signals were relayed to other dispatch stations. The center was without power from about 8:00 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. according the Jim Williams, the Chief of Staff for the Fairbanks North Star Borough.

Fallen trees also caused damage to vehicles, including RV’s and cars and others. Some residents observed visible sparks and noises that sounded like fireworks as a result of the fallen trees.

The storm originated on the Northwest part of Alaska, rolling off the Bering Sea. It passed over the Alaska Range and into Interior Alaska due to a low pressure system according to the National Weather Service. This resulted in a down burst that generated strong winds. Meteorologist Kerrie Simmons said the peak wind speed at Fairbanks International Airport was 45 miles an hour. A weather balloon launched by the National Weather Service however recorded wind speeds of 50 knots (57 mph) higher up in the atmosphere. The storm was expected to taper off Tuesday as the main body traveled south.

Meanwhile, the storm continued to produce winds speeds Tuesday around 25 miles an hour according to Williams, and the power outages have persisted on and off around the interior. GVEA recommends that all residents prepare for these long duration outages by acquiring a generator for their homes. GVEA has a guide on their website, which users can visit to help them figure out what type of generator best fits their needs.

GVEA and the Borough urge the public to not use 911 to report outages unless there is another emergency danger involved, such as a downed tree or wire leading to a fire, or an injury. Instead you can report outages to GVEA by calling either (907) 452-1151 or 1-800-770-4832. This system uses an automated system based on member numbers to get a better idea of how widespread an outage is.

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