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Avalanche control work continues on Seward Highway

Casey Grove

Motorists can expect intermittent delays today on the Seward Highway as road crews continue avalanche control work, according to the Department of Transportation.

Avalanche danger along Turnagain Arm and in Turnagain Pass is listed as "considerable with pockets of high," according to the Chugach National Forest Avalanche Information Center.

The potential for delayed highway travel comes after an avalanche early Thursday cut off Kenai Peninsula communities from areas to the north, including Anchorage. The snow slid across 100 feet of roadway about 7 a.m. near Mile 37, where the Seward and Sterling highways intersect. The highways didn't reopen until 3 p.m. when crews had fully cleared the debris, DOT said.

Crews fired cannon shots into the mountains along the Seward Highway between Anchorage and Girdwood and near the earlier avalanche to release more built-up snow, said DOT spokesman Rick Feller. Similar work would continue today as needed, and make for delays of 20 to 40 minutes, he said.

"The goal is to bring down as much snow from the mountains, in that controlled situation, as possible," Feller said. "There's a measure of judgment there. The shots release pent-up energy. So if you get a good release, you feel positive about the results."

If no avalanche releases, that means the snowpack is likely firm enough that it will not affect the highway unexpectedly, Feller said.

Updates on road conditions can be found at 511.alaska.gov or by dialing 511.

Meantime, avalanche forecasters warned anyone without expert level avalanche skills to stay out of the backcountry as dangerous, human-triggered slides are likely on steep slopes. For more information on backcountry snow conditions, see www.cnfaic.org.

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By CASEY GROVE
Anchorage Daily News