Blizzards on the Slope

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In a surprise move, winter returned to Alaska this week.  In Anchorage, we were told to expect cooler temperatures yesterday & today with a chance of snow later in the week.  What we got was about six inches of snow, and the fluffy powdery stuff looks to be about a foot on my back deck. 

On the North Slope, however, they got hit by a blizzard.  Up there, there are no trees, no hills, nothing to buffer the wind.  So when the snow starts falling and the wind starts blowing, things have to come to a halt.  While I am in Anchorage and NOT on the Slope, I thought it would be a good time to blog about what they do in this situation.

While work up there is a 24 hour a day, 7 day a week affair, weather has the power to shut everything down.  It’s not that the workplace is unsafe, its moving around that’s unsafe.  Officially they call it a “Phase 3” condition – meaning, no one is allowed to go anywhere except in an emergency.  Visibility is at a minimum, and even then if you get in trouble help may not be able to find you. 

It’s an uncomfortable time for those folks, because when they say “don’t go anywhere”, that means from the moment the Phase 3 is called.  If you are scheduled to fly home, you don’t fly home.  If you are at a camp, you stay at the camp.  If you are at work, you stay at work.  All you can do is hunker down, and wait for that condition to blow through.  They get a Phase 3 a couple times a year, and the old hands seemed to have gruelling stories of sleeping under your desk in a ratty blanket for days.  For us “townies” (people who work in Anchorage, aka “in town”), we just keep our fingers crossed we don’t get caught up there and start making other plans when it reaches a Phase 2.

Phase 2 is not a good condition either, it’s basically dangerous and hard to see.  You can drive around, but you must be in a convoy (minimum 2 vehicles going to the same place).  They really push you to not go anywhere during those times, but at least you can get somewhere.  Phase 1 doesn’t require specific driving precautions, but the expectation is that all the standard precautions are double checked (radios work, cold weather gear in you vehicle, you have the ‘dumbass’ turned down to low).

So, that’s your little FYI blog for the week.  Now to chase a puppy out into the snow so he does his business there and not on my rug.

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