Last weekend, a weather camera stationed at Eldred Rock fell victim to high winds that ripped through the Lynn Canal. The downed piece of equipment resulted in a silly image, but for local flight operators, the temporary loss was more serious.
The sustained maximum wind speed at Eldred Rock last weekend was recorded at 83 mph, with gusts even higher than that. That’s according to the National Weather Service in Juneau. High winds lasted through the weekend, cancelling flights and ferries in the region.
And, they took down one of the Federal Aviation Administration’s weather cameras stationed at Eldred Rock about 20 miles south of Haines.
The cameras are used by local flight companies to monitor conditions before taking off.
But, if you looked at some of the images transmitted by a south-facing Eldred Rock camera at the beginning of the week, instead of getting a clear view of the sky, you’d see an upside-down image of the lighthouse that distinguishes the island. Not super helpful.
FAA weather camera program manager Walter Combs says he first found out about the downed piece of equipment on Monday.
“It appears to have snapped off,” said Combs. “The orientation the way that it is laying right now is –it would have to break for it to be laying out in front of the facility.”
The FAA has hundreds of these cameras all over Alaska and Canada. And Combs says this is the first time something like this has happened. Where the support has broken, and the camera is still operating.
This camera was installed in the summer of 2014. Combs says they choose to put the equipment in locations where weather is an important factor in pilots decision to fly.
“What we try to do is install them where weather is normally bad,” said Combs, “and pilots before they leave Juneau for instance, they can check the cameras at Lena Point and at Burner’s Bay, and at Eldred Rock and at Haines, prior to leaving the ground.”
He says he has heard from pilots who felt the loss of the Eldred Rock camera this week.
According to Carl Ramseth, the General Manager of Alaska Seaplanes, the downed equipment did impact their flight department’s ability to monitor weather conditions. And they’re not alone. Wings of Alaska, the other local flight company also uses the cameras. Combs says they are an important tool for airlines throughout the state.
“In the old days they used to fly out and take a look,” said Combs.
Now with remote cameras, pilots can make decisions from the ground.
“It saves a lot of fuel and it also saves the chance that they might get into the clouds and then end up in an accident,” said Combs.
Within a few days, maintenance crews were able to fix the downed camera at Eldred Rock, j ust as the clouds moved back in after a long stretch of clear weather.