Monday, January 16, 2012

Fairbanks at 45 Below

The 15-member Homer High School hockey team was heading to Fairbanks for 4 days this past weekend, and since the basketball teams were already in Nome, there wasn't much choice for administrator coverage. Douglas got to go to Fairbanks, and he got to experience -45 degree weather--an experience he is not soon going to forget.

The journey began in Homer where it was snowing heavily and blowing Thursday morning. A late flight out of Homer resulted in missing the connecting flight from Anchorage to Fairbanks. The next flight was over 4 hours later, so Douglas had lots of time to kill in the airport, along with another chaperone for the team (the mom of the only female varsity player) who also missed the flight.

Upon reaching Fairbanks Douglas rushed through the car rental process in order to get to the game that he was supposed to be covering. However, renting a car is a little different there. They give you an extension cord with the rental, and they inform you that if you don't plug in your car, it will cost you $50 to have the car rental company come jump the car for you because it won't start (because it won't). And while nearly every Alaskan we know puts studs on their tires in the winter, the rental cars and vans did not have studded tires so the vehicles were slipping all over the place.

Douglas also discovered that if the hotel doesn't have plugs to plug in your car, you should go find another hotel because that is an essential part of the stay. People either leave their car running all the time or they plug it in. No other choices. And for the most part, places do have plug-ins. For example, the ice arena had plugs with extension cords splaying out in all directions from the parking lot lamp posts.

When things get that cold, certain things happen. For example, each school has a different policy at what temperature the teams cannot travel at. For example, Delta Junction (about 60 miles southeast of Fairbanks) cannot travel if it is colder than 30 below. Houston cannot travel if it is 40 below or colder. Saturday Homer was supposed to play Delta Junction at Delta's outdoor but covered ice arena. They thought it would be warm enough under the cover to play (they can play up to 15 below), but the temperatures were too cold for that. In fact, it was colder than 30 below so Delta Junction had to cancel. There was ice time available at an indoor rink, but it was too cold for the team to travel from their school to the ice arena 40 miles away.

The kids played one game on Thursday and one on Friday, and ended up buying some ice time on Saturday since their game got cancelled. The rest of the time they had to go somewhere and hang out. They were staying at a school so they had to be out of the school by 7:05 a.m. on Friday. That made for a long day of hanging out. Fred Meyers is a popular place to hang because it has food, so the kids would roam for hours. The team was given free tickets to watch the Ice Dogs, the semi-pro local hockey team, play. That stadium was very comfortable with 5000+ seats and warm, quiet seating (sounds like an oxymoron, I know) so that was a pleasant few hours. The kids also watched other high school teams play as 5 or more teams from all over the state were in Fairbanks to play hockey that weekend. All this free time is a prime reason why the school district requires administrator coverage at all out-of-town team travel.

The cold does a number of interesting things: it creates a permanent vapor fog that looks just like regular fog, but it is the result of the extreme cold. The other fun part of the cold is that when you take a cup of hot water and throw it in the air outside it vaporizes--poof! The hotter the water the better the effect. It just looks like talcum powder falling where there was just water moments before. The kids had great fun playing with water and cold air.

Douglas was talking to a firefighter in Fairbanks and he said they have to bundle up really well and then expect to be turned into giant icicles. And if the water flowing through the hoses slows it will freeze so it is very important that they keep the water going.

Finally, when it gets that cold the jets cannot take off or land. Only prop planes can go out. The runways get so slick that they have no traction for landing or taking off. When Douglas was there the Fairbanks airport was closed to jet landings and takeoffs.

It was a fascinating experience, and Douglas was glad to experience it....once. Once is enough. Wow. Our trip up that way at Christmas could have been veeeery different!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good post, and very accurate! Living in the interior has been a challenge for us for sure.

Got to admit though, this stretch of -40s and -30s is trying my patience. Never thought -20 would sound so "warm".