Tuesday's high winds knock out KTOO satellite dish

Powerful gusts believed responsible for vehicle, home damage downtown, on Douglas

Posted: Thursday, January 13, 2011

The KTOO station downtown took some heavy hits from the strong winds this week. Gusts pushed two of the roof’s four satellite dishes out of alignment and knocked over the station’s new backup satellite dish. As a result, listeners and AlaskaOne viewers had temporary program disruptions. Meanwhile, the station is working on assessing and repairing the damage, according to its general manager, Bill Legere.

Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire
Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire

“It was extremely bad that we lost both dishes and the backup at the same time,” he said. The dish that toppled over was the station’s backup that had just been installed in October. Legere said no one was injured in the incident, which occurred between 11 p.m. and midnight Tuesday. This was around the time the other two dishes malfunctioned as well.

“I got a call after 12:15 (a.m.) saying they were off,” said Legere.

The dish on the ground was motorized to point at different satellites for different backups. Legere said the damage will be examined but it appears to be unsalvageable.

One of the misaligned dishes tunes in the Public Broadcasting Service using the AlaskaOne television service. The other dish tunes in NPR out of Washington, D.C.

The roof’s largest satellite, which receives PBS from Washington, D.C., was unaffected.

Legere said there was also damage to some auxiliary antennas that need to be repaired.

He said the station’s team scrambled to restore as much of the regular programming as possible. This was accomplished by linking up with its sister station in Anchorage, KSKA, and streaming some programming from the Internet. A local news anchor was also there to explain the disruptions on the air, as many tuned in to music rather than their regular news shows. He said most of it was returned to normal by 6:45 a.m.

“We’ve pretty much been able to replicate our normal schedule but there are some variations and substitutes,” he said.

Equipment is being flown in from Anchorage to repair the damage. This includes materials necessary to do a temporary PBS feed in case repairs can’t be done on the roof today. Assessing the damage and repairing it will mean going on the roof, which Legere said was not possible on Wednesday because of the weather.

“It’s not safe for our engineers to be on the roof until the winds die down,” said Legere. “We haven’t been able to get up there to see if there’s any other damage.”

He said winds should be below 40 mph to make working conditions safe. Until then, Legere said they won’t know the extent of the damage, cost estimates or even how much the satellites moved. He is hopeful repairs can begin today.

Safety was a concern on the ground too. The parking lot was shut down in case there was any flying debris, and people were discouraged from parking, although Legere said these warnings were ignored by many.

Silverbow Construction was on the scene early Wednesday morning and secured the dish to the ground by 7:45 a.m.

Legere said the damage was unexpected, as the dishes were designed to withstand winds up to 100 mph. He guessed winds Tuesday night may have been stronger than that at some point.

“We thought we were prepared for the worst but got it even worse,” he said.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Weather Service in Juneau reported the sensor on top of the Federal Building was not working and so could not come up with exact wind speeds in that area during that time. Nikki Becker, a hydro-meteorological technician there, said South Douglas sensors showed winds at the nearby boat harbor were 68 mph at 11:04 a.m. She said a 3:24 a.m. reading showed winds at 88 mph.

Legere said this is the first time something like this has happened. He said while the station has experienced some very strong winds, it never sustained damage like this. The dishes have always held up.

“They’re designed to spin free in high winds, and that’s happened a few times in the past 20 years but never like this," he said.

KTOO wasn’t the only property in Juneau affected by the high winds. A house and 14 vehicles in South Douglas and downtown Juneau suffered broken windows on the sides exposed to the high winds, according to a release from the Juneau Police Department. JPD is encouraging residents to park vehicles in an area away from wind exposure, and to secure belongings near homes, the release states.

• Contact reporter Jonathan Grass at 523-2276 or jonathan.grass@juneauempire.com.

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