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Southcentral storm: Wind gusts over 100 mph on Anchorage Hillside

Mike Campbell
Craig Medred photo

As thick clouds swathed Anchorage Tuesday afternoon, residents high up along the Anchorage Hillside were grappling with powerful wind gusts that exceeded 100 mph.

Joe Connolly, 30, who lives a stone's throw from the Glen Alps parking lot of Chugach State Park, said that the wind gauge on his weather station registered 103 mph a little after 5 p.m. 

"It went from 20 to 30 to 40 mph this afternoon.  Now it's like a steady 50 to 60 mph with gusts of 85 mph -- and some even higher." 

National Weather Service forecasters warned that heavy winds will pummel the Anchorage Hillside and Turnagain Arm all night.

By 4:30 p.m., gusts on the Hillside and at McHugh Creek had already surpassed 80 mph -- enough to rip branches off trees -- with heavy rainfall along the South Fork Eagle River.

The most powerful winds are expected to hammer Turnagain Arm and the higher elevations of the Anchorage Hillside and Eagle River Valley.  “Strong winds will move down the lower Hillside and even impact the lower elevations of east Anchorage,” according to a National Weather Service bulletin.

Those winds are projected to range between 70 and 100 mph, the product of two storm systems hitting the area back to back. For comparison, during last fall’s nasty Bering Sea storm that battered Alaska’s west coast, the low-pressure system measured 944 millibars. This storm is expected to hit 964-968 milibars, according to the National Weather Service. A millibar is a measure of atmospheric pressure. Standard pressure at sea level is 1,013 millibars.

“It’s not all just about the central pressure.  It’s about how high the pressure is around it, that will produce the stronger winds,” reported KTUU meteorologist Mitch Sego. “But it looks like we’re going to have quite the wind action.”

The National Weather Service warmed that “this storm has the potential to produce more damage that usual” – snapping off tree limbs, ripping off roof shingles and causing power outages. “This strong storm system resembles the powerful storms typically experienced during the winter,” according to a National Weather Service bulletin.

Travelers on the Seward Highway beside Turnagain Arm were advised to drive cautiously, particularly if driving vehicles such as RVs or trucks with trailers attached.

In addition to the high winds, the storm will bring brief but strong periods of heavy rain. There are currently no flood watches or warnings in effect, but anyone recreating near rivers or streams is advised to be alert for suddenly rising water.

The storm is forecast to continued until early Wednesday morning. Take a look at how the storm is progressing at Glen Alps here

Connolly only has to look outside, or check his Vantage Pro2 weather system.  He's only lived on the Hillside four years, but already has seen 118 mph gusts last year -- and wouldn't be surprised to see a repeat before the night is through. 

"It's Alaska, we're in the mountains, so it's no surprise," Connolly said. "I'm expecting two seasons in a row with a lot of wind and a lot of snow."

In addition to regular bouts of wind, last winter saw the greatest snowfall ever recorded in an Anchorage winter.  "And if you look at the jetstream," Connolly said, "it really hasn't shifted a lot since last winter."

Contact Mike Campbell at mike(at)alaskadispatch.com