Relief for parched rain forest, power supply

Posted: Friday, May 10, 2002

Thick cloud cover and steady rainfall this morning signaled a break from weeks of abnormally dry, cold weather in Juneau.

As of 10 a.m. today, the Juneau Airport had measured 0.46 inches of rain in the past 24 hours. The National Weather Service was predicting more rain over the weekend.

"That helps. Any rain is going to help alleviate the situation," said Chris Maier, warning coordination meteorologist with the weather service in Juneau. "The big question will be, 'Is this pattern going to continue into June so that we can basically catch up?' "

A high-pressure system has brought about two months of abnormally cold, dry weather to Juneau and the rest of Southeast Alaska. If the conditions hold for another month, the term "drought" might apply, Maier said.

"The long-range forecast is calling for another dry spell in July and August," Maier said. "Before we get into that dry spell, will we have made up the rain? It's going to be close."

Juneau received 0.99 inches of precipitation between March 20 and May 6, an all-time low. The weather has been tied to a rash of wildfires and concerns about gardens, fish stocks and hydroelectric power.

Alaska Electric Light and Power has been running three small diesel generators to supplement power from its hydroelectric projects. The utility shut off "surplus" power to some homes, commercial and government buildings, schools and Princess Cruises last month.

AEL&P has been counting the days until low water levels would dictate the use of more-expensive fossil fuel-powered turbines, said David Stone, director of consumer affairs.

"We have lots of snow pack, but it's not melting," he said Thursday afternoon. "At the current rate of drying at Snettisham, we'll be out of water in 25 days. ... It's a good time for people to conserve a little."

The Snettisham Hydroelectric Project, which uses water from Long Lake and Crater Lake, supplies 80 to 85 percent of the power used in Juneau.

On the plus side, the dry conditions have allowed AEL&P to move up planned repairs to Snettisham, the Gold Creek Flume and the Thane power substation, Stone said.

Joanna Markell can be reached at joannam@juneauempire.com.



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