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November cold, lack of snow deepen frost line in Fairbanks

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Posted: Monday, December 17, 2012 4:59 pm

FAIRBANKS — The foot and a half of snow that fell in Fairbanks last week probably won’t do too much to protect underground sewer and water pipes from freezing, say the people who thaw those pipes.

“I’m afraid it’s too late,” Ken Born, owner of Homestead Pumping and Thawing in North Pole, said. “I’m pretty sure the damage has been done.”

The lack of snow in October and November, combined with the two-week cold snap that preceded the big dump of snow, has already driven the frost line down deeper than it normally is.

“I dug up a sewer system (Wednesday) and the frost is four feet deep already,” Born said. “We don’t normally get four feet until sometime in January.”

The snow pack on top of the ground typically serves as insulation against the cold but Fairbanks had received only about a foot of snow before last week’s storm, which wasn’t much of a blanket.

While the recent snow would have helped had it fallen before the late-November cold snap, “it might help a little bit,” said Kirk Krause, owner of Bigfoot Pumping and Thawing. In addition to providing some ground insulation against future cold snaps, the snow will help people living in mobile homes, he said.

“A lot of trailer houses that didn’t have good skirting, the snow will help keep the underside of the trailer house warm,” Krause said.

Russell Lynn, owner of Bud Hilton’s Pumping and Thawing, is of the opinion that it doesn’t really matter how much snow falls in Fairbanks.

“Typically the frost goes down about four feet,” he said. “I don’t think it varies a whole lot from year to year.”

The thing that drives the frost into the ground deeper is cold temperatures, Lynn said.

“If we have a long blast of really cold weather, then it will go down deeper,” he said.

Most of the freezing problems he’s encountered so far this winter have been the result of unprepared homeowners or renters who didn’t have their circulating pumps turned on or their heat tape plugged in, not because of deep frost, Lynn said.

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