Cold stays over Interior

Some temperatures near 60 below, but relief is in sight

Posted: Sunday, January 02, 2000

FAIRBANKS - A huge pool of cold air over the Interior kept planes from landing in McGrath and caused other minor difficulties in the region, with little relief expected until later this week. Ice fog caused the cancellation of the fireworks planned in Fairbanks, since authorities figures residents wouldn't be able to see the display.

Allan Anderson, the bartender at McQuire's Tavern in McGrath, was philosophical the fact that the band he'd scheduled wouldn't be able to make it for the New Year's party.

``We've got plenty of beer,'' he said.

McGrath set a new record low for Dec. 31 - 59 degrees below zero. But Anderson said the 530 residents in the Kuskokwim River village on the Iditarod Trail were taking the cold weather in stride.

``Everybody helps each other out when it gets this cold ... we're kind of used to it,'' he said. ``Everybody out here gears up for 40, 50 and 60 below. We've had 77 below before.''

The winter's first serious cold snap continued its grip on the Interior Saturday, with several communities recording afternoon temperatures colder than 50 degrees below zero.

But things could be looking up, according to Douglas Christopherson, lead forecaster for the National Weather Service in Fairbanks.

``We're going for warmer temperatures,'' he said, with Interior readings warming to a rang of zero to 20 below by Wednesday, and an above-zero high, perhaps as warm as 20 degrees, expected by Thursday.

Fairbanks had a high of just 43 below on Saturday, with a low of 51 below. McGrath hit 57 below, and Tanacross had the lowest reading for the first day of the new year, at 61 below.

McGrath wasn't the only Bush village without air service. Wright Air Service canceled about two-thirds of its flights Friday because of the cold, said owner Bob Bursiel.

``We don't like to fly our piston-engine airplanes when it's colder than 50 below,'' Bursiel said ``It's too risky. Piston engines are air-cooled engines and when you get too much cold air in there it can get tricky.''

The company was still flying its four turbine-engine planes, he said.

``Turbines like the cold,'' Bursiel said. ``They're like a big furnace up there. The colder it gets, the cooler they run.''

The cold temperatures and thick ice fog, which led to the canceling of Fairbanks' New Year's fireworks show, were proving to be a nightmare for motorists. Fairbanks police were responding to a constant stream of calls, said Lt. Dusty Johnson.

``We had accident after accident after accident,'' he said as another was reported over the scanner in his office.

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