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New winter storm elevates avalanche danger

ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News

Avalanche danger in the mountains around Anchorage remains considerable after another winter storm buried parts of Southcentral in snow -- again -- on Friday.

"The amount of snow we've had in the last three days has been fairly incredible," said Kevin Wright, director of the Chugach National Forest Avalanche Information Center.

Only expert-level travelers should venture into the mountains, he said. And they should be very cautious. The slopes are primed for natural and human-caused slides, he said.

As much as 15 inches of snow was expected to pile up before midnight Friday on the Anchorage Hillside and between 6 and 10 inches in the city below. Blizzard warnings were issued for parts of Prince William Sound and the Kenai Peninsula. A winter weather advisory was issued for the Mat-Su, with snow totals as high as 7 inches. Total snowfall for February in Anchorage usually averages just over 10 inches, according to the National Weather Service. Even before the storm, the snow this winter was on pace to set a record. As of Friday afternoon, 100.9 inches had fallen, the Weather Service said. And the snow was still coming down.

Along the Seward Highway between Anchorage and Girdwood and farther south near Summit, the Department of Transportation shot artillery into heavy mountain snow deposits Friday, trying head off avalanches. In town, traffic moved slowly along rutted streets. Heavy snow caked on headlights and windshields. Visibility on the Seward and Glenn highways was extremely limited with heavy, blowing snow. The Department of Transportation advised that no one drive on the Richardson Highway until conditions improved.

Between midnight Thursday and late Friday afternoon in Anchorage, there had been 71 accidents, four with injuries, and 126 reports of vehicles in distress, according to the Anchorage Police Department.

Just after noon the Department of Transportation issued a release asking drivers to stay off the roads to make way for road clearing equipment. The Anchorage School District canceled after-school activities, and the State of Alaska closed offices early. Some federal offices closed as well.

Current Alaska weather warnings

Anchorage Daily News / adn.com