Fairbanks Daily News-Miner
Sun, 04 Jan 2009 17:51 UTC
"Aarrgh," is how Dee Born, owner of Homestead Pumping and Thawing in North Pole, put it on Thursday afternoon while dealing with a waiting list that was about three days long. "As soon as it touched 50 below, the phones were ringing."
The temperature in North Pole dipped to 55 degrees below zero on Wednesday night, the lowest temperature recorded in the greater Fairbanks area during what has been six days of severe cold. It was "only" 46 below at 4 p.m. Friday in North Pole, but the temperature was "dropping by the hour," meteorologist Austin Cross at the National Weather Service in Fairbanks said.
Friday marked the fifth day in the last six the temperature at Fairbanks International Airport hit 40 below or colder; it was only 38 below at the airport on New Year's Day.
Forecasters expect temperatures in Fairbanks this weekend will likely touch 50 below and there is no indication the cold wave will dissipate anytime soon.
"It's just not going anywhere," meteorologist Scott Berg said of the cold air mass centered over the eastern Interior.
"Right now, we don't see anything happening before the end of next week."
Residents should expect "super cold" temperatures this weekend, with lows around 50 below or colder, he said.
That's not what Kathy Sporer at Alaska Best Plumbing and Heating wanted to hear.
"I'm filled up through Wednesday, and that's not counting what comes in over the weekend," she said. "I'm already into emergency overtime right now. My emergency plumbing technician hasn't slept in two days.
"I've got people waiting to get boilers put in, too, but we can't put them in at this temperature because we have to shut the heat down for four to six hours to put them in and you can't take a chance doing that when it's this cold," she said.
Most of the calls she gets are for frozen water pipes and frozen well pumps, Sporer said.
Glenn Colburn, service manager at Altrol Inc. Heating & Cooling Specialists, was in the same boat. Even with nine trucks on the road, Colburn said he couldn't keep up with the phone calls.
The waiting list at Altrol already extended into next week, and Colburn said he was telling callers who weren't existing or preferred customers to try other heating businesses in town to see if they could respond sooner.
"It's hard to tell somebody, 'I know you have no heat but we can't get to you until next week,'" Colburn said. "I hate to do that, but you can only work so many hours a day. We've had guys working all through the holidays."
Both Colburn and Sporer reported several freeze-ups caused by people covering their baseboard heating with furniture, curtains or storage boxes.
"People don't realize that heat has to circulate," Sporer said.
Colburn has also dealt with some frozen houses due to faulty furnaces.
"The biggest problem I've seen with forced air furnaces is they should have been replaced a few years ago or they haven't had anybody working on them," he said.
Business at auto parts stores has also picked up as vehicles succumb to the cold.
"Battery (heating) pads, block heaters, gas de-icers, diesel anti-gel ... those are all good sellers right now," Dean Jazzo, general manager at the Gaffney Road NAPA auto parts store, said.
The store has seen a run on batteries, he said. Vehicle owners need to keep their batteries warm and charged to prevent freezing, Jazzo cautioned.
"A fully-charged battery won't freeze until well into the negative 60s," he said.
A lot of people are trying to do to their vehicles now should have been done back in September, Jazzo said.
"People were holding off and hoping they didn't have to spend the money and now they're paying for it," he said.
Phones at towing shops around town also were ringing steadily
"Oh yeah," Lloyd Locke, owner of Fairbanks I Tow, said with a chuckle when asked if business was heating up. "We've got more calls than we can handle."
By Friday, it had reached the point where Locke was no longer responding to requests to jump-start dead cars or change flat tires.
"It's just too cold to be changing tires," Locke said.
As far as jump-starting dead cars that haven't been plugged in, "it's just a waste of time," he said.
"There's no need trying to jump them in this weather," Locke said. "You gotta try to get them in somewhere and heat them up."
Shawn Ross, owner of Badger Towing, had three trucks on the road Friday and still couldn't keep up with demand.
"We're backed up right now until 6 p.m., and they're already scheduling stuff in for Saturday and Sunday," Ross said at about 2 p.m.
One common problem, Ross said, is people using auto starts to keep their cars warm during the day.
"They're hitting the auto start and the heat comes on and the lights come on but the 12 minutes the car is running doesn't give the battery time to charge up," he said. "During an eight-hour day, they're constantly starting and stopping their cars. It just wears down the battery.
"Plug them in, go out and start them during lunch for a little bit and you should be fine," Ross advised.
In addition to cars, furnaces and pipes, the cold weather is taking its toll on Fairbanksans, Ross said.
"It's hard on vehicles and it's hard on folks," he said of the cold. "Tempers are flaring. You've just got to be as patient as you can."
Or as Dee Born, from Homestead Pumping and Thawing, pointed out, "It's Alaska, and we all live here by choice. You just hunker down and hang on."
Alaska State Troopers on Friday cautioned people to dress for the weather if they are venturing outside and to carry appropriate emergency supplies in their vehicles when traveling.
"Getting stuck in the ditch in temperatures below zero can become a potentially life and death situation if you are unprepared," according to a press release issued by troopers late Friday afternoon.
In addition to sufficient arctic clothing, motorists should carry blankets, sleeping bags, extra gloves, hats and boots, food, flashlight, road flares and an emergency medical kit.
Troopers also warned that consuming alcohol makes cold injuries more likely and can impair judgment.
Comment: Gotta hand it to those Alaskans, after all the horror stories of dealing with the bitter cold - "consuming alcohol makes cold injuries more likely and can impair judgment."