State and local briefly

Posted: Monday, January 03, 2000

Weather was wetter than usual

JUNEAU - Juneau's December was the fifth warmest and second wettest on record, with 6 inches of rainfall above the average and a temperature nearly 9 degrees higher than normal.

Over the course of the month, seven consecutive record temperatures were tied or set from Dec. 21 to 27. At the same time, about three-quarters of the total monthly rainfall fell. Even with this warmth, December's snowfall was only slightly below normal, falling 2.5 inches to 19.9 inches total.

The unusual warmth was caused by a weather system called the ``Pineapple Express'' or ``Hawaii Pipeline,'' a strong flow from Hawaii's latitude that reaches Alaska.

The year of 1999 was also soggy for Juneau residents. With 79.03 inches of rain, nearly 25 inches above average, and measurable rain falling on 277 of 365 days, it set a number of records, and was surpassed only by 1991 and 1992 as Juneau's wettest year to date.

The average temperature for Juneau was 42.2 degrees, 1.4 degrees above normal. Temperatures ranged from a high of 83 degrees on Aug. 2 to a low of 3 degrees on Jan. 22. There were only six days on which the low temperature dipped under 10 degrees, all of them last January.

Anchorage man kills wife, self

ANCHORAGE - Police say a murder-suicide left two people dead in an eastside Anchorage neighborhood Saturday night. Marcus Whitson, 28, apparently shot his wife, Lanise Whitson, 25, inside their apartment at about 10:30 p.m. police said.

Police were called to the area shortly at about 10 p.m. after residents called to report a naked woman was outside screaming before a man dragged her back into their apartment. Soon after, neighbors heard several gunshots from inside the apartment.

When police arrived they evacuated neighbors from adjacent apartments, entered the home and found the two bodies inside.

Shortly before police were called, Whitson shot into the door of a neighboring apartment and confronted residents with a gun demanding to know if his wife was there, police said. When neighbors convinced him his wife was not there he left.

It's not known what led Marcus Whitson to shoot his wife and himself, investigators said. The couple had two young children who were visiting relatives in Louisiana at the time of the shooting.

Rangers warned of avalanche

ANCHORAGE - The avalanche near Hatcher Pass that killed a Wasilla man Dec. 26 came as no surprise to park rangers, rescue workers and other authorities. On Sunday, before the 11:30 a.m. slide, ranger Pat Murphy and a fish and wildlife trooper warned anyone they could find at Hatcher Pass about the high avalanche risk.

``We were trying to close the whole area,'' Murphy said. ``They were going into dangerous places without enough knowledge about the avalanche hazards. . . . Saying it's frustrating is putting it mildly.''

Robert Keith Coyne, 37, and several other snowmachiners in the Hatcher Pass area were engaged in highmarking - racing straight up a steep slope in a competition to see who can leave the highest mark. Coyne's machine got stuck. As he was trying to free himself, a small slide started below him and then a much larger one swept down from above and buried him.

While about 30 people started searching the snow for Coyne, other snowmobilers continued highmarking, Murphy said.

The Alaska State Snowmobile Association Vice President Kevin Hite said riders most at risk from avalanches are young, male and convinced they aren't going to be hurt. ``One of the things we do struggle with is how to reach them,'' he said.

Riders aren't the only people at risk when a slide comes down, officials said. It can sweep other riders, snowboarders or skiers off the mountain and can threaten the lives of volunteers and professionals called out for the rescue.

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