Snow burries Valdez and Cordova; Nome is cold

Anchorage Daily NewsJanuary 6, 2012 

Records are being broken or challenged by blizzards in Prince William Sound and cold temperatures in Nome.

A glut of snow during the first week of 2012 choked roads in Valdez and Cordova and collapsed warehouse roofs in both of the Prince William Sound cities, which were still digging out Friday as the snowfall threatened to continue into the weekend.

According to the National Weather Service, Valdez received 42 inches in the most recent storm, for a total of more than 18 feet this winter and a snow depth of an even 6 feet. Cordova saw about the same, the weather service says, and forecasts for the weekend indicate more is on the way.

The Richardson Highway, which connects Valdez to the state highway system, was shut down indefinitely at Thompson Pass, the Department of Transportation said. Cordova isn't on the state highway system, but the only major roadway out of town, the Copper River Highway, was cut off by avalanches between the town and the airport, according to the city.

VALDEZ

As of 2 p.m. Friday, the National Weather Service office reported a season total of 272.1 inches of snow. An accumulation of 19.2 inches was recorded for Thursday.

The record snowfall for Valdez, 560.7 inches, was recorded in the winter of 1989-1990. The current snowfall is on track to eclipse that.

In Valdez, school opened on time and students were ready to go, residents say.

An old warehouse roof also collapsed in Valdez and snowplows were running around the clock, said A.J. Keeton, a lifelong Valdez resident who works at the harbor plowing the docks.

"It's just been relentless," Keeton said. "We're mainly just trying to keep everything dug out. Everything else kind of comes to a halt. If there's any maintenance going on, it's just all snow removal."

"It's kind of like damage control," he said. "You're working hard just to make sure nothing bad happens to your personal stuff. Vehicles get stuck more often, so you're trying to find rides if you don't have a four-wheel-drive vehicle. There's definitely not as much traffic on the road."

The Richardson Highway, the only road into town, was closed by multiple avalanches in Thompson Pass. The Department of Transportation said it was "shooting" avalanches, using explosives to purposely set off snow slides that could be cleared before they became an unpredictable hazard and hoped to have the road open by 8 p.m. on Friday. Travelers were advised to check conditions online at 511.alaska.gov.

Kate Herring lives at milepost 19 on the highway, between Keystone Canyon and Thompson Pass. She couldn't drive to work at the Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. marine terminal on Friday.

The sound of road crews working to clear the road and explosions floated on the bright, sunlit air during Friday's noontime lull.

"I can hear them bombing the canyon from my house," Herring said.

She had not experienced any power issues, she said, and was using Facebook and email to keep tabs on work. There is no television in her neighborhood, but she had access to Netflix and was doing a lot of baking while snowbound.

Dawson Moore, an instructor at Prince William Sound Community College, was among the writers scheduled to take part in "Alaska Overnighters" theater presentation in Anchorage tonight and Sunday. The event hands playwrights a theme and gives them 12 hours to write a one act play which will then be rehearsed and performed 12 hours after that. He planned to drive to Anchorage on Friday.

"Instead, when I woke up this morning, my windows were sort of covered in snow," he said. "There was 2 1/2 feet on my porch and more like 4 feet in my driveway. My car high-centered before it could get to the street.

"I've been here a decade and this is the worst day of snow I've seen here."

According to the National Weather Service, Valdez was looking at snow picking up again Friday night, with an accumulation of 6 to 10 inches during the day Saturday and another 3 to 6 inches in the evening.

Carlos Godfrey of the Valdez weather service office said they expect still more snow to come in on Sunday.

CORDOVA

Cordova Mayor Jim Kallander issued a disaster declaration and asked the state to provide more heavy equipment operators and National Guard personnel to help clear snow. Local snowplow drivers have been working around the clock for about two weeks and are simply exhausted, Kallander said.

"It's more snow than anybody's ever seen," Kallander said. "Cordova's a very resourceful community, and it takes an awful lot for us to have to go ask for help."

School had been set to reopen Monday after the Christmas break, but Kallander said snow would have to be removed from the roof before that could happen. Large roofs on the Orca Lodge and Copper River Seafoods buildings had collapsed, as well as a residential outbuilding, he said.

Nobody had been hurt as a direct result of the snow, and emergency services were still operating, Kallander said. The grocery store was open, but food and other items still sat at the dock Friday because more plowing needed to be done, he said.

"It's just a hell of a lot to do. It's getting pretty extreme," Kallander said.

Though there was a slight break in the weather Friday, forecasts for Cordova called for mixed precipitation Saturday, with 4 to 7 inches of snow during the day and another 2 to 4 inches to follow.

NOME

Yet more extreme weather is hitting Nome where, for the first time in 13 years, the temperature hit 40 below zero just after 10 a.m. Thursday morning. The last time it was this cold in Nome was Feb. 1, 1999. The last time a minus 40 reading was taken on Jan. 5 was in 1917.

Temperatures remained "firmly in the 30s below zero" on Friday, according to the weather service, making it the 10th consecutive day with temperatures below minus 30. Temperatures of minus 38 on Jan. 3 and minus 38 on Jan. 4 broke the previous low temperature records for those days.

This is the longest severe cold wave since a record-breaking 16-day stretch from Jan. 15 to 30, 1989. That epic spell saw two days tie Nome's all-time record low, 54 degrees below zero.

Nome has not seen temperatures above zero since Dec. 23, 2011.

"There is a good chance that the cold wave will continue two or three more days," said the weather service report.

Reach Casey Grove at casey.grove@adn.com or 257-4589.

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