Fierce Windstorms Batter Alaska as Thousands Lose Power
Tens of thousands of people lost electricity this week, while the wind chill dipped to 35 degrees below zero.
After relentless windstorms battered parts of Alaska with gusts of up to 88 m.p.h., making below-zero temperatures feel even colder as the winds caused power outages for tens of thousands of people, crews were working Wednesday to restore service to homes that were left without heating for days.
The heavy windstorms began on Saturday, and on Sunday 22,000 buildings were without power, the Matanuska Electric Association said on Facebook. About 2,500 buildings remained without power as of 4 a.m. Wednesday, the electric association said.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy declared the storm a state disaster on Monday, allowing families to apply for disaster recovery grants. In addition to the windstorms, the cold weather, freezing rain and heavy snowfall had disrupted water distribution, damaged buildings and restricted travel.
Crews were delayed in restoring power because the winds — at times reaching hurricane-strength — have persisted for days. Meanwhile, as families endured without electricity, the wind chill was expected to again dip as low as 35 degrees below zero on Wednesday, as it has in recent days.
“This could cause dangerous life-threatening conditions for those without power, as frostbite can develop in as little as 15 minutes in these conditions,” the National Weather Service said on Tuesday.
The Matanuska Electric Association, which has been chronicling updates on Facebook, said on Monday that it had been “a very rough evening with one step forward and two steps back at every turn for our crews,” who were removing trees, fixing equipment and restoring lines, but were slowed by the conditions.
“With the wind continuing to cause damage even as they’re making repairs on existing damage, it makes it impossible to give a time frame,” the association said on Monday.
By Tuesday night, more than a dozen crews remained at work trying to restore power to the remaining customers, the association said. The person writing updates on Facebook noted that it was 54 degrees in their home as they worked.
A high wind warning was in place for the Matanuska Valley, which includes Palmer, Wasilla, Sutton and Chickaloon, through 6 p.m. Wednesday, the National Weather Service said. Winds were predicted to hover between 15 and 30 m.p.h., with gusts of up to 45 m.p.h. in the morning, and high temperatures expected between 5 below to 5 above, forecasters said.
The American Red Cross of Alaska opened shelters in Wasilla and Palmer for residents without power, and “will remain open as needed or until the community power is restored,” it said Tuesday on Facebook.