Alaska's worst winter in at least a decade is starting to hurt the economy as unbelievable cold and gale winds forced officials to shut down the state's oil port Monday and cut production by more than half in the nation's largest oil field.
All over Alaska, schools were closed, food and fuel supplies dwindled, water pipes froze, heating oil turned to jelly and 100-below wind chills made just being outside dangerous, officials said.The National Weather Service reported Tuesday that the massive high-pressure dome that is producing the Alaskan cold has set a record for the highest pressure ever recorded in North America. Pressures at Bettles and Big Delta, Alaska, reached 31.58 inches, breaking the old mark of 31.53 inches set Jan. 1, 1974 over Canada's Yukon Territory.
"It's looking pretty grim," said National Guard Lt. Mike Haller, spokesman for the 24-hour Emergency Operations Center. "It's not just the villages now. It's the urban areas too. The human suffering index is rising rapidly as growing numbers of people have frozen pipes and cars and trucks aren't running."
The huge oil port of Valdez was closed to tanker traffic for the first time in a decade by winds gusting to 50 mph in zero temperatures, meaning no oil could leave Alaska, America's chief single source of oil. Tankers deliver one-fourth of the nation's crude from Valdez, terminus of the 800-mile trans-Alaska oil pipeline, to refineries on the West and Gulf coasts.
With tankers halted, oil production from Prudhoe Bay, America's largest oil field, and other giant northern Alaska oil fields, was slashed by nearly two-thirds Monday from 2.2 million barrels daily to 775,000 barrels, said Alyeska Pipeline spokesman Tom Brennan. Production was scaled back until the weather improves.
Wind gusts of 76 mph blew out some windows in Valdez, and there was one gust of 93 mph, weather specialist Jeff Bailey said, adding, "Valdez has received a monstrous amount of snow, 21 feet so far this winter, in some cases up to eaves of structures, but big heavy drifts prevent structure damage, like windbreakers, but it's just grim trying to survive out there as a person."
In Fairbanks - where a Canadian C-130 military transport plane crashed Sunday night in ice fog and 52-below cold, killing eight and injuring 10 - schools were closed for the first time in a decade.
Three towns reported lows of 65 degrees below zero: Manley Hot Springs, Nenana and Tanana. Many places had temperatures in the minus 50s.