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Icy, hazardous driving conditions hit southern Alaska

Suzanna Caldwell
Freezing rain helped create conditions at the Seward Highway and 15th Avenue where a semi truck slid into a sedan and a tow truck, pinning both against the snow berm. November 22, 2013
Loren Holmes photo
Freezing rain helped create conditions at the Seward Highway and 15th Avenue where a semi truck slid into a sedan and a tow truck, pinning both againss the snow berm. November 22, 2013
Loren Holmes photo
Freezing rain helped create conditions at the Seward Highway and 15th Avenue where a semi truck slid into a sedan and a tow truck, pinning both against the snow berm. November 22, 2013
Loren Holmes photo
Freezing rain and an overflow closed 15th Ave in the Fairview neighborhood of Anchorage. November 22, 2013
Loren Holmes photo

Icy rain turned Southcentral Alaska roads into a skating rink Friday, with vehicles around the state finding themselves in various states of stranded.

The Alaska Department of Transportation of Public Facilities road condition site lists numerous roads as being in poor condition.

According to Chugach Electric Association, the entire Kenai Peninsula lost power for several hours. By early afternoon, power had been restored. Officials were still investigating the cause of the outage, but said they believed it was likely not weather-related.

The Matanuska-Susitna Borough, located 45 miles north of Anchorage, reported 65 accidents between 7 a.m. and 1 p.m. Friday. Four accidents involved school buses, one of which sent four children and the driver to the hospital for evaluation. Anchorage Police reported 33 accidents, three minor injuries and 54 vehicles in distress by 5 p.m. Friday.

Both the Anchorage School District and the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District cancelled all after school activities Friday afternoon.

Anchorage's People Mover bus system suspended service for more than three hours beginning late in the morning. Buses resumed service in mid-afternoon, but officials said to "expect significant delays and reroutes."

Winds of up to 60 miles per hour brought blowing snow and whiteout conditions on the Richardson Highway, near Delta Junction. Winds and snowy conditions are also plaguing higher elevations along the Parks Highway, near Denali National Park. A travel advisory has also been issued for the Dalton Highway -- the 500 mile road between Fairbanks and Prudhoe Bay, that parallels the Trans-Alaska Pipeline.

Alaska State Trooper Spokeswoman Megan Peters did not have exact numbers of how many calls officers had responded to Friday morning, but that dispatchers were “super busy” working to dispatch Troopers.

“There are no major injuries (reported), but lots of minor accidents, and that's bad enough,” Peters said.

Roads across the region were closed, including Vine Road in the Mat-Su. Peters said the trooper on scene reported seeing 20 cars trying to make it up the steep hill. She also said a fire truck responding to a vehicle distress call couldn't get enough traction to get going.

Department of Transportation Spokeswoman Jill Reese said all crews were out working to clear and sand the roads.

“Be very careful,” Reese said. “Our advice is to stay put if you can.”

About a quarter inch of freezing rain fell on Anchorage Friday, according to National Weather Service Forecaster Christian Cassell. While the rain stopped, it was replaced by snow showers which are expected to cover Southcentral Alaska with two to five inches of snow. The snow is forecasted to stop between midnight and 5 a.m. Saturday.

Light snow is expected in the following days, but should only be a nuisance at most, Cassell said.
"It's nothing that will cause headaches like today," he said.

A partial list of weather-related closures

• Anchorage School District: Classes still in session, all after school activities cancelled

• Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District: Classes still in session, all after school activities cancelled

• University of Alaska Anchorage: Classes beginning at12:45 p.m.at the Anchorage, Eagle River and Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson campuses cancelled

• Anchorage People Mover: Service resumed in mid-afternoon, but officials said to "expect significant delays and reroutes."

• Roads: Closures and openings are happening quickly. Information on what is and isn't open can be accessed via the following Twitter feeds:@alaska511,@APDInfoand@MatSuBorough

• Matanuska-Susitna Borough offices: Closed at 1 p.m., including pools, libraries, landfills and the Brett Memorial Ice Arena.

Contact Suzanna Caldwell at suzanna(at)alaskadispatch.com. Follow her on Twitter @suzannacaldwell

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