Earliest icing in 30 years

12 vehicles slide off roads

Posted: Tuesday, October 03, 2000

Icy roads worked miracles this morning, persuading many Egan Drive commuters to head for work at a sedate 35 miles per hour - or less.

Drivers who raised their eyes from the black ice were rewarded with postcard glimpses of spruce frosted with record-breaking new snow, but most were not raising their gaze. Juneau Police received 12 reports of vehicles off the road between 6:45 and 9:30 this morning.

One person was taken to Bartlett Regional Hospital by Capital City Fire & Rescue from a single-vehicle rollover on Egan Drive about 8:24 a.m., firefighters said. A teen-age girl was treated for a small bruise on her thigh and released, said Heather Newby, Bartlett nursing supervisor.

"The Mendenhall Valley was pretty treacherous this morning with slick roads," said meteorological technician Sam Simpson of the National Weather Service, "but we are expecting sunshine and clear skies, and hopefully it will melt."

Sanding did not take place because the state Department of Transportation was caught off guard, said Kirby Wright, Juneau station foreman for DOT.

"It was the earliest icing in 30 years. Historically the last couple of years we have had mudslides and rain (in early October)," Wright said.

"Last I heard of the weather forecast yesterday was 'snow changing to rain' and I didn't hear anything about clearing and cold," Wright said.

DOT is winding up projects in Haines and Skagway, and construction trucks must now be converted to spread sand and chemicals. "We will have chemicals on hand for tonight if it does freeze up," Wright said.

Despite the difficult driving, no weather records were set today. But Monday was a phenomenon, Simpson said.

The Juneau Airport and the Mendenhall Valley had 2 inches of snowfall by day's end Monday. That broke a record set on Oct. 18, 1949, for the season's first 2 inches of snow. The one-inch snowfall record was set Oct. 13, 1997.

Monday's temperature also broke a record with a low of 24 degrees at the airport. The previous record low for Oct. 2 was 26 degrees, set in 1957, Simpson said.

Local radio stations began warning commuters before 7 a.m. to allow extra time to scrape off windshields and lights, and cautioned them that two vehicles already had landed in the ditch near Sunny Point. Low-lying fog was another factor in the morning commute before sun pierced it.

Cautious drivers slowed traffic. One Douglas-to-Salmon Creek commuter took 50 minutes as opposed to the usual 15. North Douglas Highway was described as "a little hairy."

Studded tires became legal Oct. 1, but Juneau's drivers have not been quick to put them on, said Kevin Johnson of the Evergreen Motors service department.

"It's been pretty lax for this time of year compared to past years. I have been kind of surprised," Johnson said.

The 4.5 inches of snow that fell overnight on the Eaglecrest Ski Area has local skiers daydreaming of wax and bindings, said Gary Mendivil, Eaglecrest's business manager.

"It's amazing that the cruise ships left less than a week ago. The termination dust was a termination dump." Mendivil said. "People are excited."



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