Across Alaska, 2021 ended and 2022 began with a fury. A post-Christmas storm system dumped rain and then a foot of snow on Fairbanks, then temperatures plunged to 40 below. Denali Park got nearly 30 inches of new snow in the same storm. Anchorage and the Mat-Su got freezing rain — then, a few days into the new year, wind gusting to more than 80 mph raked Wasilla and Palmer, causing widespread damage and massive power outages. It’s the sort of event that could lead you, momentarily, to question why you live here.
Fortunately, there were several examples that reminded us why we do.
Even as the rain was still falling in Fairbanks and the winds were still tearing across the lower Susitna Valley, line workers were already out working to restore the hundreds of power outages that resulted. In some of the worst weather conditions imaginable, when Alaska State Troopers had sent out emergency alerts warning residents to stay at home except in life-and-death emergencies, the line crews were putting themselves in harm’s way to restore power for the rest of us. Electrical workers and Alaska Department of Transportation plow crews worked marathon shifts to keep our cities running, sacrificing their own rest to lead the recovery from the storms’ effects. As a result, the consequences for their fellow Alaskans were far less severe than they could have been — imagine if thousands of Interior residents had still been without power when, after the rain and snow, the bottom fell out of the thermometer.
As temperatures were plunging in Fairbanks on New Year’s Eve, another drama played out: An infant was found abandoned in a cardboard box on the roadside in a neighborhood west of the city, with little explanation beyond a note explaining that the baby’s mother and grandparents were unable to provide for it. Thanks to the quick actions of neighbors who found the newborn, the baby was doing well after being transported to the hospital for care. Troopers have since located and contacted the baby’s mother, who was herself taken for treatment. In the meantime, a groundswell of Interior residents reached out offering care and supplies for baby and mother alike, recognizing a moment when things could have gone much worse and hoping to provide support.
Palmer’s small-plane airport saw more than $1 million in damage as the extreme winds tossed planes, damaged hangars and other infrastructure. But the situation would have been more severe if not for the quick actions of a group of plane owners and neighbors who rallied to help secure and protect aircraft at the field. Using their vehicles to shield the planes in some cases, they worked quickly to tie down aircraft and keep those that had been carried away by the wind from causing further damage. All it had taken was alert neighbors and a social media call-out to get a crew on hand.
There are plenty of lessons to take from Alaska’s recent storms. It’s smart to keep a generator or other backup power generation option handy so that you’re not at the mercy of the elements if a power outage strikes. It’s prudent to regularly check on your roofing and house siding, so that high winds won’t strip pieces from your home while it’s too dangerous to go outside. When you can, it’s wise to clear your roof of snow when the load starts to approach the weight your trusses are rated for. Always keep emergency supplies on hand, such as extra water, flashlights, a camp stove, emergency food and blankets at home — as well as warm gear, a shovel, jumper cables, a tow strap and other survival supplies in your car.
But perhaps the most important lesson from the storms is to be there for your neighbors when they need you. Up here at the end of the road, none of us are as resilient on our own as we are when we all pitch in. Whether it’s helping shovel a driveway or roof, lending a generator, pulling a stuck car out of the ditch or righting an overturned trailer or airplane, a little kindness goes a long way — and can even mean the difference between life and death. We don’t always need a storm to remind us of that, but when we get one, it’s good to take it to heart.