To Anchorage police, all that falling, blowing, piled-up snow made for a gnarly Monday.
It wasn't the storm of the century, but the big spring snowstorm that began early Sunday was approaching the biggest of the 2012-13 snow season. It disrupted normal life for some. Late afternoon classes at King Career Center and University of Alaska Anchorage were cancelled. So were after-school activities at middle schools and South Anchorage and Service high schools, though sports events at the Alaska Dome were still on.
To cross-country skiers, it deposited the happy prospect of a longer season with better conditions. Downhill enthusiasts immediately began plotting on how to enjoy fresh powder at Mount Alyeska.
The National Weather Service issued a winter storm warning for Anchorage and Eagle River, and declared a blizzard -- with blowing snow and less than a quarter mile visibility -- in Whittier, where about 20 inches had fallen before noon on Monday. Valdez was getting hammered, and parts of the Matanuska and Susitna valleys were seeing lots of snow, too.
By 4 p.m. Monday, 12.6 inches of snow had fallen over the two days at the National Weather Service office on Sand Lake Road. That was enough to boost the Anchorage seasonal total to date to 76.2 inches, turning the winter of 2012-13 from what was seeming like a low-snow winter to one comfortably above the average of 74.5 inches, said meteorologist Chris Burling of the National Weather Service. And Sunday's snowfall of 5.8 inches set a record for the day.
Cars got stuck on berms in parking lots left by snowplows. They slid into ditches. They had to maneuver along lanes masked and narrowed by snow. They crashed into one another, most spectacularly in one 12-vehicle pileup that closed the outbound Glenn Highway for a short while just before rush hour.
The toll between midnight Sunday and 7 p.m. Monday, according to police dispatchers, was four crashes with injuries, 42 crashes without injuries, and 86 vehicles in distress, including cars stuck in the snow or that slid off the road.
"I would say it's looking pretty ugly," patrol Sgt. Gerard Asselin said around 3 p.m. He'd been on duty since 7 a.m. "It's really tough going, all around. It's virtual whiteout conditions."
Windshield wipers iced up. Car doors froze shut. Drivers didn't slow down enough.
In one example, two cars were traveling the same direction in separate lanes when one lost traction on a curve, spun out in front of the other, and was T-boned -- an odd crash considering they were headed the same way, Asselin said. The vehicle that spun out had the wrong tires, he said.
Other problems happen when people don't take time to brush off the snow or scrape away the ice.
"They get in their car with 4 inches, 6 inches, 8 inches of snow on it, and they just start driving. I'm seeing a lot of people with windows completely covered in snow. Tail lights, headlights need to be all cleaned off but a lot of people are driving around with that stuff amassed on there," he said. After the 12-vehicle pileup, Asselin wondered whether obscured headlights and tail lights were a factor.
Alan Czajkowski, the municipality's director of maintenance and operations, said city snow plow operators and sanders were concentrating on major roads first.
"A lot of the areas haven't been plowed yet," Czajkowski said. "By the time you get done, you've got to start again." Crews planned to clear the snow from downtown overnight Monday, he said. His department has beefier staffing on Tuesdays, when four crews will be working during the day followed by two night crews. Residential areas should be plowed within 72 hours of the storm's end, he said.
"It's Alaska. I've been here 25 years. It's just another day."
For cross-country skiers and downhillers, the fresh snow is a big plus.
"It keeps everybody on skis," Diane Moxness, executive director of the Nordic Skiing Association of Anchorage said. About a foot fell at Kincaid Park and groomers had already packed it down and were working on trails in Hillside Park and Chugiak, she said.
"Groomers are out right now, smacking the air out of it," Moxness said.
Races and organized events are over, but the recreational cross-country season might last another month, thanks in part to all the new snow, she said.
At Alyeska Resort, the new snow won't extend the season, but does improve conditions for skiers and snowboarders, said Jessica Pezak, the resort's marketing director.
During the two-day storm, Alyeska measured 17 inches of fresh snow at the bottom of the mountain, and 26 inches at the top of Chair 6, she said. And "it's still dumping here," she said around 6 p.m.
On Monday, the resort shut down some lifts and areas of terrain because of the risk of avalanches, she said, and the mountain will be assessed for safety Tuesday morning before skiing can begin.
Still, the resort anticipates one of the best days on the mountain this season, she said.
"It's very dry, fluffy light powder from the base all the way to the top."
Downhill enthusiasts can check the resort Web site or call its hot line, she said.
Enjoy it while you can. The National Weather Service says it may warm up by the weekend, and the next storm could be a mix of snow and rain.
Reach Lisa Demer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4390.