What's up with that?

Alaska's First Christmas Lights - and the fog that makes them hard to see

Posted: Thursday, December 12, 2002

Q: Are the Christmas decorations on the Governor's House recycled each year? And why are they using fake boughs on the fence around the yard?!?!

A: The administration may have switched, but the familiar, impressive Christmas decorations on the Governor's House remain unchanged. The same bright lights of Tony's years now keep Frank awake at night.

A Juneau Empire article of Nov. 22, 1995, reported a new display of lights and decorations had been commissioned by Gov. Knowles, in part because Knowles and his family spent the holidays in Juneau and would be seeing the display every day. His predecessor, Wally Hickel, spent the holidays in Anchorage.

"The outside of the mansion will feature artificial garland boughs and clear instead of colored lights, in an effort to tone down designs that in past years have overwhelmed the neighborhood," the article stated.

Dianne Lindback of Juneau assisted in the design of the exterior lights in 1995. Karen Newton, executive residence manager and assistant to the first lady, said the current display has been largely the same every year since it debuted, with the exception of replacing burnt-out light bulbs.

We'll have to see if Gov. Murkowski decides to alter the exterior lights next year.

The interior changes more often, and the costs are largely covered by donations, Newton said.

Moving on to the hot topic of fake garlands, Newton said using artificial garlands along the fences of the Governor's House saves money for the state.

"It's very expensive, and the labor to make it would be expensive," Newton said of buying and assembling the real boughs that would be necessary to ring the yard. The artificial garlands can be brought out year after year.

Those in need of fresh pine scent need not look far. The garland along the Calhoun Avenue viaduct between the Governor's House and the Juneau-Douglas City Museum, made by inmates at the Lemon Creek Correctional Center, is very real.

One more interesting nugget of information from the 1995 newspaper article. At that time, the state spent about $25,000 each year to decorate the mansion. And the artificial garlands were a one-time cost of about $4,000.

Money was tight then, as it is now. Knowles spokeswoman Claire Richardson said at the time that the benefit to the community justified the cost.

"We've gone through recessions but we've always had lights," she told the Empire. "It's something thousands of people can see and enjoy."

Now What's Up With That has a question for all of you. How many lights are on the outside of the Governor's House? Newton provided some rough numbers for us, and we'll reveal the answer in the next What's Up With That column on Dec. 26.

Q: Why does all this fog we've been having seem to be so much thicker around Lemon Creek?

A: What's Up With That has seen some blinding fogs roll in off Lake Michigan while working in Sheboygan, Wis. - the Bratwurst Capital of the World - but some of the recent fog episodes around the Vanderbilt Hill intersection have been far worse.

"You have a cool air drainage that comes off the Lemon Creek Glacier that goes over the warm air of Gastineau Channel," said Jim Truitt, a forecaster with the National Weather Service's Juneau office. Truitt noted that calling frigid Gastineau Channel "warm" is in relation to the chillier air from the mountains.

Truitt said the warm air of the channel and the Lemon Creek wetlands "will steam up into the cold layer, and that cold layer - which is shallow - has a temperature inversion at the top" that acts as a cap, trapping the fog in place for an extended period of time.

So the ingredients for thick, prolonged fog all come together in Lemon Creek. The fog there also can "grow" out over the channel and beyond, causing disruptions at Juneau Airport.

Andrew Krueger's family grew its own Christmas trees and would never, ever be caught with a plastic substitute. He can be reached at akrueger@juneauempire.com. Send your What's Up With That questions and comments to whatsup@juneauempire.com.

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