Warmer, wetter weather creates its own set of problems

With this week's warmer weather, the snow shovels may get set aside but the higher temperatures and rain can create their own set of winter problems.

Last week's single-digit temperatures gave way to 30-plus degrees by Sunday and 44 by Monday afternoon. Heavy snow on Saturday totaled nine inches before transitioning into rain on Sunday. Such rapid changes in weather can be detrimental to anything carrying the weight of wet snow and efforts to drain off the mess.

"The impacts of what could happen - because it's going to keep raining - some of the concern is rain adding to snow loads on houses, boats, aircraft," said Grant Smith, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Juneau. "With the ground being so cold, because it will take so long to warm up, it can cause icy conditions."

Smith said the pileup of snow can lead to drainage issues, which can lead to runoff problems such as ponding on roadways.

"With packed ice, we're kind of at the mercy of Mother Nature," said Chief Tom Radke of the Wrangell Police Department. "In some ways it's worse because people see the pavement and speed up."

Radke cautions drivers to slow down, put down the cell phone, turn down the music and remain alert. He also suggests drivers make sure vehicles are road-safe, such as making sure tires aren't bald and knowing the condition of their brakes. For the most part, though, Radke said the police department hasn't seen a lot of accidents. "Wrangell people are pretty safe."

He also said people will tend to stay in when weather conditions get bad. If someone hasn't seen a neighbor for a day or so, he suggested calling the police department to do a wellness check.

"Maybe some people need help. People still need to get to the store. We still have a portion of the population that gets scared," Radke said. Those in need of help can call the police department for a list of resources.

But even staying in isn't always safe, as the weather can still make an impact, especially on the things not always visible, like plumbing.

"Normally, you just keep your pipes from freezing by running water," said Kjell Nore, a plumber in Wrangell. "When it starts warming up, that's when pipes can break."

Nore said people think that just because the weather warms up, it makes it safer to turn off the faucets, which isn't so. The added snow and rain can keep conditions icy. He suggests allowing faucets to trickle until spring. "That will save a lot of money and a big headache."

Smith said existing snow will act as a sponge, which will add to the weight of snow already on rooftops and boats. He said he knows of three boats in Juneau that have sunk because of the added snow weight.

The Fred Meyer store in Juneau was closed Monday over concerns of the heavy, wet snow load on the roof. Public schools, many state offices and the University of Alaska Southeast in Juneau also closed on Monday due to dangerously icy roads, as did public schools and municipal offices in Ketchikan.

Wrangell Harbor Director Steve Miller said one vessel sank last week because of the single-digit temperatures. The icy waters will freeze hulls and break them. Snow load is also a problem on docked boats.

"We do contact owners anytime we see something out of the ordinary," Miller said. "Snow loads are definitely an issue."

Aaron Woodrow, a commercial fisherman based out of Juneau, posted a math equation on Facebook to illustrate just how heavy snow can get.

"The snow on my roof is 19 inches deep. I cut out a 12-inch by 12-inch square the best I could and weighed it on a highly accurate scale," Woodrow wrote. "The weight of one square foot (19 inches deep) was 26.62 pounds."

Most roofs built with shingles or wood are designed to withstand 20 pounds per square foot. Roofs built with clay or metal can take up to about 27 pounds per square foot.

Experts suggest clearing off rooftops when snow accumulation reaches at least six inches and no more than two feet. Flat or lower-pitched roofs should be cleared off more often as there's a higher chance of damage from heavier amounts of snow.


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