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PUBLISHED: 3:58 PM on Wednesday, April 18, 2007
Southeast Alaskans recover from a long, snowy winter

Courtesy photo
  The snow was no deterrent to youngsters in Gustavus who recently went searching for Easter eggs.
The subject of winter has been "shop talk" for more than five months, and Southeast Alaskans are ready for something new to hash about such as summer and the salmon derbies.

Spring seems to be knocking at the door, from melting driveways to the glorious sun peeping through downy clouds and warming hearts. What's most promising are the smiles and brighter attitudes donned by Alaskans.

The winter weather, which even caused businesses to shut down and school children played hooky due to "snow day," is just a fading memory for now. The impact of Southeast Alaska's long winter affected many outlets of our daily lives from digging out stubborn cars to mailboxes residing as "out of order."

Snowfall in November (64.1 inches) and in March (62.7 inches), turned the winter of 2006-2007 from an "average" winter to a record breaking snow winter in Southeast Alaska, states meteorologist Tom Ainsworth, of National Weather Service.

In general, he said the winter of Southeast Alaska was one of the snowiest on record. It was the prevailing cold air with a surge off the (North) pole; it just never really retreated back off the coast, said Ainsworth.

With the massive amount of snowfall, city streets became constricted and snow burms grew so high, people couldn't even see out their car windows.

"We budgeted $80,000 and we're in the low $100,000 for snow removal," said John Stein, municipal administrator of the City and Borough in Sitka.

It's been a drain on taxpayers; this year they exceeded what was budgeted last year-that part is tough, said Cathie Roemmich, of Chamber of Commerce in Juneau.

However, she gives kudos to the city manager and crew for their hard work.

"I think our city and state did an incredible job with the snow removal," Roemmich said.

Stein describes beyond difficulties with narrow city streets and pedestrian trails in Sitka, state highway routes took the hardest hit from the heavy snowfall.

He said they had a couple building roofs collapse, including a 50-year old kwansit hut. Over 1200 harbor boat owner had their hands full; they continually had to clear the snow off their boats for fear of getting top-heavy.

On the lighter side, Mount Edgecombe lent spectacular scenery from the snowfall, Stein said.

It was the longest and most sustained snowfall in recent memory; it was exciting at times, but got old really fast," he said.

In Petersburg, "the attitudes were not as cheery as in the springtime; we're extremely happy spring is here," said Karl Hagermann, Petersburg Public Works director.

He said due to the heavy snow, a couple local projects were put off including a state project by Rock-n-Road Construction concerning covert replacements heading toward the ferry terminal at the south end of the island.

Businesses including local snow plow companies kept hectic schedules beginning in November and into the hard month of March.

"It kept me busy-it snowed about 18 inches at one time," said Ira Bob, snow plower in Wrangell. He said he took several other jobs and ended up buying a four-wheel drive tractor.

On the other side, construction companies took a hit from the snowfall.

"We would have been working in March, but we didn't want to push it with the weather," said Hari Siryh Dev of Khalsa Construction in Juneau who usually does roof work during the spring season.

He said they are waiting for it to get a little warmer before doing roof work; they were able to do a lot more indoor construction.

"March came in like a lion and will go out like a lamb," said Dev

According to NWS, Juneau's total snowfall through April was 197.8 inches; the previous record of 194.3 inches occurred in the winter of 1964-1965.

This year, Haines' record snowfall was an astounding 306 inches and Annex Creek, up Taku River, 466.6 inches. Petersburg recorded 225 inches, with a previous record of 221.6 inches in the winter of 1971-1972.

"Many people's perception was this was a very cold and snowy season," said Ainsworth.

Surprisingly, snowfall from December through February was only a 5.5 inches above average for the three months, said Ainsworth. Similarly, temperatures were actually above average in December and January but much colder than average in November, February and March.

"It was November and March that tipped the scales," Ainsworth said.

"March was the best month," said general manager Kirk Duncan, of Eaglecrest, concerning skiing conditions.

Eaglecrest is ranked number one for deepest snowpack in the world, with a recorded depth of 211 inches according to www.skicentral.com.

While the endless amounts of snow did benefit Eaglecrest, Duncan said it was an interesting challenge moving snow from under the snow lifts.

Surprisingly, they've had better years, he said. We lost out on the week after Christmas due to the high winds, he said.

On the whole, "it was a great year," Duncan said.

For Alaskans anticipating a rewarding summer after all the snow, Ainsworth said NOAA's Climate Prediction Center's seasonal outlook for spring, summer and fall predicts equal chances of above or below average temperatures and precipitation for Southeast Alaska. He said with the springs and summers that followed most of the other very snowy winters they're cool springs and gradually warmer late summers.

"This is the most snow we've had on the ground in April," said Ainsworth of NWS. Currently, there are 30 inches of snow; summer may take a little longer than normal.

As the weather continues to slowly warm, Alaskans begin polishing their fishing poles and looking forward to diversion in the sea. This year, the outlook for Alaska's fishing season is hopeful.

Recently the Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced the salmon quota dropped by about 17,000, which means about three to four fewer days of fishing than in 2006, sources state.

Kate Kanouse, habitat biologist for Department of Natural Resources, office of Habitat in Juneau, said the snow pack may have held up their (salmon) incubation period. The window we consider out-migration of salmon is March through June 15, she said.

Kanouse, who performs trapping and sampling sessions in the Gastineau Channel, observed hundreds of pink and chum salmon fry recently. While the cold temperature definitely affects temperature of water and the whole lifestyle of salmon; they are pretty adaptable, she said.

On the other hand, while the cold temperature definitely affects temperature of water and the whole lifestyle of salmon; they are pretty adaptable, she said.

With Alaska's bountiful forests, welcoming oceans, beautiful scenery and rustling wildlife, the ending of our snowy winter is the beginning of a new season and the adoption of positive outlooks.

"I'm feeling optimistic that we're going to have a great summer," said Cathie Roemmich.


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