Fairbanks winter storm: power outages, classes cancelled

Heavy snowfall causes multiple trees to cover power lines near Farmer's Loop. Photo courtesy of Estee Wright 

Heavy snowfall causes multiple trees to cover power lines near Farmer’s Loop. – Estee Wright / Guest Contributor

Molly Putman / Layout Editor

The record-breaking 11.2 inches of snowfall on Tuesday Sept. 29 caused widespread power outages that affected thousands of Fairbanks residents. The winter storm prompted UAF to cancel all classes in Fairbanks and North Pole for the night of Sept. 29 and Wednesday Sept. 30 due to heavy snowfall, dangerous road conditions and power outages throughout Fairbanks and outlying residential areas.

While about 11,000 homes and businesses had power restored as early as the morning of Sept. 30, some Fairbanks residents went multiple days without power. The American Red Cross of Alaska opened two warming shelters on Wednesday to provide heated buildings for residents to stay overnight. The Red Cross shelters were closed Friday evening as more homes regained power and the need for the shelters declined.

Power in Fairbanks is primarily provided and maintained by Golden Valley Electric Association (GVEA), a company that maintains over 3,000 miles of power lines and provides service to Fairbanks, Delta Junction, Nenana, Healy and Cantwell.

GVEA initially reported isolated small outages at 3 a.m. Sept. 29, but by Tuesday afternoon estimated 4,000-5,000 meters were without power. By Wednesday morning GVEA stated that the number of meters affected could be as high as 21,000, about 20 percent of their total customers.

The outages were caused by heavy snowfall bending trees into power lines and other snow related damage to power lines and facilities. According to their website, GVEA line crews and contractors worked through the night to remove the trees, but more outages continued to appear throughout the winter storm.

“We bring a neighborhood up and we could be losing another,” Corinne Bradish, a GVEA spokeswoman, said on Tuesday. 

Despite this, by Sunday, Oct. 4 only 1,000 residents were still without power. Over 70 power line technicians have been working this outage including GVEA linemen, returning retired GVEA linemen, Matanuska Electric Association crews and contractors from Fairbanks and Anchorage. To access trees in the lines and broken equipment, crews patrol power lines on snow machines, bearcats and on foot.

While progress has been made in restoring power to Fairbanks and North Pole city centers, residents in isolated locations will need to wait longer for power to be restored. Those without power are encouraged to report outages if they have not already by calling GVEA at (907) 452-1151 or emailing info@gvea.com.

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