Torrential rains break city record

2.51-inch rainfall is highest this year; mudslide, local flooding reported record-breaking rainfall

Posted: Sunday, November 20, 2005

Record rainfall at the end of the workweek left some city and state employees working overtime this weekend.

Juneau Public Works employees spent Friday night containing flooding on Behrends Street and were kept busy Saturday cleaning up the aftermath of a landslide on Nelson Street downtown.

Alaska Department of Transportation workers spent Friday night and Saturday dealing with a landslide that closed a portion Glacier Highway near the Gastineau Humane Society, north of Lemon Creek.

"We had a crew in all night and all day today," said Streets Superintendent Mike Scott on Saturday evening. He said the cleanup from the multiple landslides and clogged culverts could have workers out in the field today and possibly Monday. He said the cost of the cleanup could exceed $5,000.

The National Weather Service reported the highest rainfall of the year on Friday with 2.51 inches recorded at the Juneau International Airport. That is also a record for the date, which was previously 1.16 inches recorded on Nov. 18, 1993.

Thursday was also a record for the date, with 1.18 breaking the previous mark of 1.13 inches set Nov. 17, 1971. The record in Juneau for most rain recorded in one day was 4.62 inches on Oct. 10, 1946.

Scott said a house on Nelson Street sustained significant structural damage from a landslide that left a large tree stump in a bedroom, though there was no significant damage to city property.

"We didn't have any damage to our streets this time," he said. "It's not like it washed anything out."

A power pole was reported to be down across Glacier Highway just before 11 p.m. Friday. A large portion of the hillside south of Fred Meyer fell and swept trees and soil onto the road. Cleanup crews were on site for most of Saturday, opening the road up shortly after 5:15 p.m.

Troy Cunningham, who is building a house about 300 yards north of where the slide happened, said he wasn't surprised by the slide. He said he has been putting a lot of time and effort into drainage issues and water flow, including constructing a French drain on his property.

"There are water issues on every hill in Juneau. It goes all the way down Juneau on both sides and up on the hills above Douglas," Cunningham said. "I think in Juneau you're either (built) on a rock or in mud."

Kerry Hanko, a weather service meteorologist intern, said October and November are historically the rainiest months in Juneau.

"It's not all that unusual to get high rain events this time of year, but this one is particularly higher than usual," she said.

Hanko said the heavy rain was caused by a strong low-pressure system that originated in a tropical region near Hawaii that was moving northeast.

"We were seeing a much larger warm-air push and it was moving warm air over us," Hanko said. "It's more likely to see heavier rain fall when it's warm."

Juneau wasn't the only city to set records, and didn't get nearly as much rain as other areas of Southeast Alaska.

On Friday, Sitka recorded 2.82 inches, breaking the date's previous record of 2.25 inches set in 1993. The all-time high for Sitka was 8.50 inches recorded on Sept. 1, 1967.

Hoonah received 2.80 inches Friday, also a record for the date, breaking 1.23 inches set in 1980. The village's all-time high was 10.40 inches set Feb. 13. 2001.

Gustavus recorded 1.20 Friday, also a record, topping the 0.56 inches set in 1990. The all-time high was 4.05 inches set on Oct. 3, 1994.

Rainfall records aren't kept for the Snettisham Power Station, about 45 miles south of Juneau, but a volunteer recorded 7.52 inches of rain on Friday, Hanko said. Pelican, which also doesn't keep historical rain records, reported 8.41 inches on Friday.

"If we're going to get an event like this, they are usually the ones who get dumped on," Hanko said.

The heavy rain on Friday didn't keep some Juneau residents from getting out and enjoying the day. Juneau-Douglas High School juniors Katie Boyce and Amanda Jones spent the day camped out in front of Glacier Cinemas awaiting the first showing of "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire." The two 17-year-olds said they arrived at 9 a.m. for the 6:45 p.m. showing, huddled under an umbrella with rain gear watching previous Harry Potter movies on a laptop computer for much of the day.

"It gets cold. We almost lost the umbrella a couple of times, but other than that, it's cool," Boyce said on Friday as she took refuge from the rain under the theater's canopy.

"At first it was just, like, sprinkling, but then it, like, started picking up with the wind and the rain," Jones said. "It's really cold. My toes are, like, almost gone."

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