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Extreme cold slams state

Posted: Thursday, January 08, 2009

Ted Johnson planned on using a set of logs to a build a cabin in Alaska's Interior. Instead he'll burn some of them to stay warm.

Al Grillo / The Associated Press
Al Grillo / The Associated Press

Extreme temperatures - in Johnson's case about 60 below zero - call for extreme measures in a statewide cold snap so frigid that temperatures have grounded planes, disabled cars, frozen water pipes and even canceled several championship cross-country ski races.

Alaskans are accustomed to subzero temperatures but the prolonged conditions have folks wondering what's going on with winter less than a month old.

National Weather Service meteorologist Andy Brown said a "ridge" of sorts has developed over much of Central Alaska east toward Canada. That keeps other weather patterns from moving through. New conditions get pushed north or south while the affected area faces daily extremes.

"When it first started almost two weeks ago, it wasn't anything abnormal," Brown said. "About once or twice every year, we get a good cold snap.

"But, in this case, you can call this an extreme event. This is rare. It doesn't happen every year."

Temperatures sit well below zero in the state's various regions, often without a wisp of wind pushing down the mercury further.

Johnson lives in Stevens Village, where residents have endured two weeks of temperatures pushing 60 below zero.

The cold has kept planes grounded, Johnson said. Food and fuel aren't coming in and they're starting to run low in the village, about 90 miles northwest of Fairbanks.

Johnson, whose home has no heater or running water, said he ventures outside only to get more logs for burning and to fetch water from a community facility. He's been saving the wood to build a cabin as a second home, but that will have to wait a few years now because the heat takes precedence.

"I've never seen it this cold for this long," he said. "I remember it 70 below one time, but not for a week and a half."

Folks in Northway aren't faring much better, said Marcy Coman, a lodge owner in the village about 250 miles southeast of Fairbanks The average low in January for Northway is about 29 below zero. Wednesday's high was 48 below zero, after warming up four degrees from the overnight low.

In Anchorage, residents are used to lows of about 10-degree temperatures in January - not 19 below zero, which is what folks awoke to Wednesday morning.

Temperatures finally settled to about 10 below at midday, but that was cold enough to cancel races in the U.S. Cross Country Ski Championships.

Skiers won't compete unless it's at least 4 below zero, but the numbers have ranged between 10 below and 15 below.

That has led to four days of canceled or postponed competition with organizers hoping to get a set of races under way today, the event's final day.



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