Flood warning lifted, but problems likely to persist

Streets department rushes to keep up with slush on roads

Posted: Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The city's streets department is "treading water" just to keep up with the slush inundating the local roads after a recent warm spell and a higher-than-average snowfall resulted in a local flood warning.

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Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

Streets Superintendent Mike Scott said the city is running its equipment 24/7 to unclog storm drains and clear the puddles of slush covering roads from Douglas to Auke Bay.

"Most of the drains are 6 feet behind 7 feet of snow," he said. "They've all been frozen, they've all been cold. Just getting to the drains is the biggest problem at the moment. We're just treading water, should we say."

The clogged drains resulted in a considerable amount of standing water on many roadways, and the city heard from residents with backed-up water entering their homes, City Manager Rod Swope said.

"We're still down to one-lane roads in a lot of areas, so we're trying to haul snow, clear drains and fight Mother Nature and we're not winning," Scott said Monday.

The warming weather and increased rains resulted in the National Weather Service issuing a flood warning for Southeast Alaska that expired Monday afternoon, Hydro-mineralogical technician Nikki Becker said.

"The main reason it was issued is for safety and to make sure people are aware of the problem, and we have replaced the flood warning with a special weather statement," she said.

The special weather statement says that above-average temperatures and periods of rain will persist across Southeast Alaska throughout the week. People can expect water levels to rise on low lying roads, parking lots, drains, ditches and small streams and could potentially intrude basements, garages and crawl spaces. It said the water equivalent of the snowpack at its office on the Back Loop Road was 5.7 inches on Monday morning.

Becker said the rain is expected to be relatively light today before a short break in precipitation on Wednesday. Then a new weather system moves in with more rain on Thursday. The special weather statement said there is a chance of "significant rain" on Saturday and Sunday.

As of Monday, 51.8 inches of snow fell at the Juneau International Airport in less than two weeks. The average snowfall for January at the airport is 28.9 inches.

Scott said the impending rain could lead to messy streets for the next couple of days.

"Our equipment has been running 24 hours a day, we're burning through fuel like nobody's business, we're paying contractors to haul snow," he said, which could impact the city budget. "It's something we prepare for, but you also have to understand we are beyond our normal average snowfall and we've got three months to go."

• Contact reporter Eric Morrison at 523-2269 or eric.morrison@juneauempire.com.

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