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AK Beat: Avalanches certain as windy, wet weather moves into Southcentral

Alaska Dispatch
NOAA satellite image

Avalanches certain in Southcentral: Add avalanches to the plagues (see entry below) that Mother Nature is bringing down on Alaska's urban heartland heading into the weekend. On the heels of warnings from the National Weather Service that parts of the state's populous Southcentral region could be hit with 3 to 5 inches of cold rain and that winds gusting to 95 mph could rake the Anchorage Hillside, the Chugach National Forest Avalanche Information Center is now warning the mountains could tumbling down. Or at least the white coating atop them could. Heavy snow and rain coupled with high winds are expected to cause natural avalanches to release at least through Saturday, the Center said in a warning statement, which added that "human-triggered avalanches are certain.'' It does not appear to be a good weekend to go into the mountains anywhere other than the Alyeska Resort in Girdwood, where large amounts of ammunition are shot at the surrounding slopes to bring down avalanches and make downhill skiing safe. Sadly, the skiing might also be a little wet this weekend. Avalanche condition updates can be found at CNFAIC.org.

Here comes the rain again: Get ready, urban Alaska -- Mother Nature is about to put it on you again. Another of those slopfest storms is hurtling north into the Gulf of Alaska from somewhere down Hawaii way. The National Weather Service is warning the north Gulf coast will get 3 to 5 inches of rain the 24 hours starting Saturday morning. Skiers headed for the slopes at Girdwood might want to think about water skis rather than downhill skis. Meanwhile, the Anchorage Hillside is expected to be pummeled by winds. Residents there might want to think about tying down motor vehicles so they don't go sliding away on rain-slicked, icy roads given NWS predictions of temps into the 40s and "southeast wind 45 to 60 mph with gusts increasing to 80 to 95 mph by mid morning." Oh yeah. It's that Big Wild Life the city is always promoting. 

Alaska runner details comeback: Marko Cheseto, the champion University of Alaska Anchorage distance runner who went missing in November 2011 in woods near the school, details his attempts to make a running comeback in the latest edition of Runner's World magazine. Cheseto lost both of his feet six inches below the knee after becoming despondent following the suicide of his teammate and cousin, William Ritekwiang, earlier in the year. Now outfitted with carbon fiber running blades, Cheseto has slowly been finding his way back to running and racing. In a postscript to the story, Runner's World notes that since the Paralympics does not currently offer distance events, Cheseto hopes to qualify for the 2016 Olympic Games in the men's 400-meter.

Stevens wins; tubes to be unclogged: In the wake of a Washington, D.C. Circuit Court decision striking down the Federal Communication Commission’s net neutrality rules, the late Sen. Ted Stevens’ infamous “series of tubes” remarks about the Internet are being resurrected. Writing in Slate -- and bemoaning that companies, such as Verizon, whose side Stevens took -- net neutrality proponent Michael Socolow recalls how Stevens’ Senate floor speech, from which the meme came, and which was pilloried by Jon Stewart, did a great deal to bring the issue to the public’s attention, even if the attention wasn’t flattering to Stevens at the time. Still, Tuesday’s ruling means that Uncle Ted comes away from this the victor: As the Slate headline proclaims: “Ted Stevens wins: The Internet’s Tube’s Will Be Unclogged.”

Anchorage police name suspect in Wednesday standoff: Anchorage police arrested and charged 44-year-old David Chau following a standoff Wednesday evening during which the suspect allegedly barricaded himself in a residence on Eastridge Drive and claimed he was in possession of a bomb, police spokesperson Jennifer Castro wrote in a Thursday press release. Around 7 p.m. Wednesday, police reported that a male suspect had claimed he was armed and in possession of a bomb when police attempted to serve him with court papers. The standoff ended around 7:20 p.m. with the suspect in custody as explosive ordinance disposal units searched the residence for any possible explosives. Chau has been charged with one count of terroristic threatening in the second degree and was remanded to the Anchorage Correctional Complex. He is scheduled to be arraigned on Thursday afternoon.

Three crashes send victims to hospital with serious injuries: A pair of crashes sent victims to Fairbanks Memorial Hospital with serious injuries Wednesday evening, while another briefly closed the Parks Highway in Wasilla, according to Alaska State Troopers. The first accident occurred at about 5:30 p.m. near Chena Hot Springs Gas, on the Chena Hot Springs Road, when a pickup truck made a left turn into the gas station in front of another vehicle. That vehicle tried but failed to avoid a collision, troopers said. The truck’s driver, 52-year-old Fatimah Vanessa Cole, of Fairbanks, was transported to the hospital with serious injuries, as were her two juvenile passengers. Then at about 8:20 p.m., a Ford F-350 traveling south on the Parks Highway at about mile 185 (near the East Fork Chulitna Wayside) crossed into the northbound lane and into the path of an oncoming tractor-trailer, troopers said. The tractor trailer moved into the opposite lane to avoid a collision, but the vehicles collided anyway. The tractor-trailer continued into a ditch, while the F-350 rolled into a guard rail and caught fire, according to troopers. The driver of the pickup, whose name trooper did not release, was taken to Fairbanks Memorial Hospital to be treated for serious head injuries. Investigations into both crashes are continuing, troopers said. A third accident closed the Parks Highway for an hour and a half at around 10:30 p.m Wednesday. According to troopers, 17-year-old Emma Lark, of Big Lake, was driving north in a Dodge Dakota when she drifted across the center line and struck a Ford Focus being driven southward by 26-year-old Lena Hensley of Anchorage. Both were taken to Mat-Su Valley Regional Hospital to be treated for what troopers described as “serious by non-life threatening injuries.”

Begich introduces Izembek road legislation: Alaska Sen. Mark Begich on Wednesday introduced legislation that would mandate a land exchange between the federal government, the State of Alaska, and King Cove Corporation which would in turn allow the construction of a road between the communities of Cold Bay and King Cove on the Alaska Peninsula, according to a press release from Begich’s office. In late December, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell rejected a proposed land swap, a move harshly criticized by Alaska delegates, and praised by environmentalist groups. The proposed road would connect King Cove, which lacks a hospital, to Cold Bay, with its long airstrip capable of handling emergency medical flights, even in bad weather. It would also cut through land that is now part of the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge. Sen. Lisa Murkowski told Politico last week that she was skeptical legislation would change the situation, noting that the road was conditionally approved by Congress as part of the Omnibus Lands Act of 2009, “and this secretary ignored it.”