Warm, wet weather prompts road closures

Record-breaking warm temperatures had some people in Whitehorse basking in the sun over the last few days.

Record-breaking warm temperatures had some people in Whitehorse basking in the sun over the last few days.

Others in the territory, particularly those working for the Yukon’s Department of Highways and Public Works, had to jump into action when the unseasonable weather ramped up.

They closed many of the territory’s main arterial roads Feb. 13 and kept them that way through much of Feb. 14. Some were closed because of snow or poor visibility, others because of an onslaught of freezing rain.

“As much as we pay attention to forecasts, this one was a bit more than we expected,” said Clint Ireland, director of the Yukon’s transportation maintenance branch.

The Alaska Highway was closed from Whitehorse to Haines Junction and northwest to Destruction Bay.

Both of those stretches reopened the afternoon of Feb. 14.

As of the morning of Feb. 15, the Haines Road was still closed from Haines Junction through the B.C. border. The Klondike Highway is also still closed from Carcross to Fraser, B.C.

The department runs 21 highway camps in the territory along major roads. They are the operations bases for staff who plow snow, do road maintenance and monitor if the roads are safe enough to drive on.

They do checks daily, Ireland said, and also keep an eye on weather forecasts.

“In a case like (this), we had freezing rain, just an ice build-up that they weren’t able to keep up with,” Ireland said.

“In the case of the Haines Junction section it was raining so hard when they were putting the sand down that it was just washing off the road and not staying on the road.”

On the South Klondike Highway, the avalanche risk was high due to rain and wind, he said.

The area around Destruction Bay was closed because of the amount of snow that fell through the pass.

“All the same storm, just different precipitation.”

Much of the territory has seen unseasonably warm temperatures over the last few days. Ireland said his staff saw the forecasts but are always skeptical.

“You believe it when you see it. Nobody was expecting that we were going to have the warmest temperatures since 1942. That was a bit of a shock for us.”

Most highways have gates that are closed when a road is shut down. The Alaska Highway does not, Ireland said.

There, one person has the unenviable task of standing in the freezing rain and turning cars around.

Contact Ashley Joannou at ashleyj@yukon-news.com

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