Fierce winds hit Juneau

Winds were fierce throughout Southeast Alaska this morning. The National Weather Service says Sitka, Juneau and Yakutat had the highest gusts.

In downtown Juneau this morning, gusts reached 73 miles per hour atop the federal building, and 44 mph at the airport. Alaska Airlines cancelled morning flights.

National Weather Service forecaster Rick Fritsch says winds in Hoonah reached 56 miles an hour, Elfin Cove, 53 mph, and Sitka winds were clocked at 86 miles per hour.

“But the winner, which occurred this morning between 6 and about 8, was the Eaglecrest Ski Area, here in Juneau: 133 mile-an-hour gusts this morning,” Fritsch says. “And those sustained winds were really quite healthy as well, 80 knots which equates to 92 miles per hour. No doubt the chair lifts were swinging something fierce,”.

Eaglecrest General Manager Matt Lillard says he heard this morning about the extreme winds from groomers.

“The cat drivers said it was shaking the cats as they were grooming up on the upper mountain,” Lillard says.

He says there was no damage, but signs, bamboo poles and rope lines were down. The lower mountain lifts operated this morning and by 11 a.m. winds subsided enough that the Ptarmigan chair lift to the upper mountain started running.

Despite high wind gusts at sea level, Alaska Electrical Light and Power reports no major outages.

About 4:45 a.m., though, the wind took down a large tree in the 17-mile area of Glacier Highway, hitting a power line. AEL&P says the tree hit a power line, suspending it between two other trees and causing electrical failures in three homes. Capital City Fire responded to the home of KTOO General Manager Bill Legere, where crews found smoke and what Deputy fire Marshal Sven Pearson calls a “red glowing electrical junction box that supplied power to the furnace.”

“Investigation team reported light smoke conditions inside the home that traced a circuit from the electrical panel that appeared to have been heavily charred,” Pearson says. “The homeowners stated that having working smoke detectors had aided in alerting them of the fire and to be able to safely evacuate the structure.”

Legere would go further:

“We’ve been very careful about having smoke alarms that work and fire extinguishers and a household emergency plan, and that smoke alarm undoubtedly saved our lives,” he says.

Pearson says there were multiple reports of electrical issues from nearby home owners after the tree hit the power line.