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Arctic front storms through Alaska, leaves a mess
An arctic storm, producing winds gusting to more than 100 miles per hour, caused extensive damage Sept. 4 and 5, including knocking down street signs and trees on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska. Emergency personnel's first priority after the storm was clearing streets for safe traffic flow. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Robert Barnett)
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Arctic front storms through Alaska, leaves a mess

Posted 9/5/2012   Updated 9/5/2012 Email story   Print story


by Chris McCann
JBER Public Affairs

9/5/2012 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- All summer, the Lower 48 has been hit with nasty weather - droughts, fires, record-breaking heat, and recently, Hurricane Isaac.

Alaska, after record snowfall last winter, enjoyed a cool, pleasant summer.

Until Tuesday night.

An arctic storm off the southern Bering Sea brought high winds up Turnagain Arm, hammering Anchorage with gusts of up to 100 miles per hour.

Power lines were knocked out of service all the way through Eagle River and Chugiak, leaving people on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson and the surrounding communities in the dark.

Trees blew over, several trampolines ended up far from their natural homes, and anything not tied down was fair game.

As comedian Ron White said, "It's not that the wind is blowing, it's what the wind is blowing."

In the run-up to another Alaska winter, that's something good to keep in mind.

High winds aren't uncommon here in the winter, according to the National Weather Service, but in the winter, there are no leaves on the trees to catch the wind. Roots are frozen into the ground and snow provides an extra anchor for the trunk. Most outdoor items are safely in a garage or shed.

"It's unusual for storms of this strength to move through this early in the fall," said a NWS release.

With advance notice, power-line crews were out from local providers in the communities, and civil engineer units were ready to respond.

By 7 a.m. Wednesday, crews on JBER were already in full swing, removing downed trees.

Paul Voorhis, an equipment operator for the 773d Civil Engineer Squadron, was on the front lines of the effort.

"We're just trying to repair some of this wind damage, clear some the obstructions that are blocking the view of traffic right now.... they're causing a safety hazard," Voorhis said early Wednesday morning. "Then we're going to come in and do a clean up and get all the debris. But for now our initial goal is to clean up the traffic [and] safety hazards."

Air Force Capt. Kris Williams of the 962nd Airborne Air Control Squadron had a downed tree in his yard.

"It probably came down between 10:30 p.m. and 12:30 a.m., but we didn't hear it because the wind was so loud," Williams said. "I thought I was back in Oklahoma, for a couple of hours."

Power was out at Williams' home for a few hours, although much of the installation didn't see power restored until late Wednesday morning.

"At one point while the power was out, a police car was parked on the street with its lights kind of felt like a scary movie in here," Williams said.

An email sent before he left work advised of high winds, so Williams secured what he could - like flags. "I couldn't control the tree," he said.

"This is the first time I can remember that the base has closed and there hasn't been snow on the ground," he said.

Don Grayder, a maintenance worker with the 673d Air Base Wing, has been working in the area for 18 years.

"This is a freak windstorm," he said. "I've never seen this happen while leaves are still on the trees."

The storm served as a powerful reminder of the need to prepare.

Flashlights and plenty of batteries, bottled water, non-perishable foods, first-aid kits and blankets can make the next emergency situation bearable.

9/12/2012 6:02:08 PM ET
I live off base so my power was out for a few days. Not fun. Luckily I have a wood fireplace so I was able to keep the house warm and eat. Took all my frozen food to a friend's house so it wouldn't spoil.
SSgt , Anchorage
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