Fog foils fliers again

Posted: Thursday, December 05, 2002

Louise Earnest sat on the floor next to three empty children's car seats this morning near the Alaska Airlines desk at Juneau Airport. Looking like she had been at the airport for hours, which she had, she talked about her family's planned trip to Washington and Oregon.

The vacation was supposed to start Tuesday evening but has been delayed by fog. More than 80 percent of Alaska Airlines' flights into and out of Juneau since Monday have been canceled, said Jack Walsh, spokesman for the airline.

According to the airport, only three Alaska Airlines flights left the airport Monday. Five regularly scheduled flights and an extra plane flew on Tuesday, but only one flight was able to leave Wednesday.

As of 11:30 this morning, Alaska Airlines flights had been delayed but not canceled.

Earnest said if the weather doesn't change, the trip may not happen.

"If we don't get out by Saturday, we might as well cancel," Earnest said.

She perked up when she saw three red-haired children heading her way. Her grandchildren, the 2 1/2-year-old triplet sons of Cheryl and Wayne Kimball, looked every bit as tired as she did.

"They had to get up at 5 this morning, and they're used to not getting up until 8 or 9," Earnest said.

Wayne Kimball put the children in their car seats while Cheryl discussed life in Southeast Alaska with Kim Mix, who moved to Juneau in September and is trying to leave for a vacation in Chicago and Fort Collins, Colo.

"My impression of Juneau is that it's this gorgeous place and then fog right over the airport," Mix said.

She tried to fly to Yakutat in October and was forced by bad weather to cancel the trip. A friend who visited her on Halloween arrived on the first flight that made it into town in days.

"He made it, but it was really a close one," she said. In spite of the weather, or possibly because of it, Mix is determined to take a vacation.

"I'm going to get out somehow," she said. "In a boat, swimming ..."

If she did decide to swim, Mix could be accompanied by 21 middle school and high school swimmers from Juneau who were waiting for a flight to Ketchikan this morning. They had planned to leave at 7 a.m. to compete in the Alaska state age-group championship swim meet in Ketchikan on Friday, but instead spent the morning playing games and waiting for news on their flight.

Allen Marine Tours planned to send a boat from Juneau to Sitka this afternoon, said company vice president John Dunlap. Allen Marine carried 106 passengers from Sitka to Juneau on Monday morning, 64 passengers from Juneau to Sitka on Wednesday, and about 200 people on two boats from Sitka to Juneau this morning.

Wednesday was the fourth or fifth day the company offered ferry service for stranded airline passengers since this fall, Dunlop said.

The fog, which has not hindered Allen Marine's ferry service, is caused by a layer of cold, dense air near Earth's surface trapped by warmer air at higher altitudes, said Paul Shannon, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

"Up at the Mount Roberts tram and at Eaglecrest it's actually 10 to 15 degrees warmer than it is at the surface," Shannon said.

Because the surface air is colder than the water, the water evaporates and condenses to form a cloud at sea level. The cloud tends to form over the airport because of the tidal wetlands the airport is built near, Shannon said. He expects the fog to break up this afternoon and rain to move in by the weekend.

"Once (the rain) comes in, we'll start getting some wind," he said. "By the weekend we don't have a chance of getting any fog."

Christine Schmid can be reached at cschmid@juneauempire.com.



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