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Ice storm blog: How the day went down

Zaz Hollander,Tegan Hanlon
Traffic moves along Muldoon Road as the freezing rain turns to snow on Friday, November 22, 2013 near the Glenn Highway overpass.
Bob Hallinen
The Glenn Highway sign near the JBER exit informs drivers of dangerous driving conditions Friday, November 22, 2103.
Erik Hill
A school bus slid off Edlund Road Friday morning, November 22, 2013. Two students and the driver were initially taken to the hospital for evaluation. There was a report of a third student later taken to hospital for evaluation but the other 11 students are alright.
Casey Cook
A Mat-Su Borough School District bus chains up at a gas station near Wasilla Friday around noon. Several school buses were involved in accidents Friday morning including one that sent two students and a driver to the hospital with minor injuries.
BRENT ZOELLNER
A vehicle traveling southbound on the Seward Highway lost control and rolled multiple times. According to a friend of the driver, the driver was not injured.
Erik Hill
Alaska State Trooper Doug Massie's pickup blocks traffic at Vine Road near Wasilla Wednesday around noon. Troopers closed the road Friday morning due to icy conditions and multiple vehicles getting stuck.
BRENT ZOELLNER
Thomas Green gave up waiting for a People Mover bus and decided to walk down 15th Avenue near Lake Otis Parkway Friday morning, November 22, 2013. 15th was closed due to icy conditions.
Erik Hill
A wreck on the Parks Highway west of Wasilla shut down a section of the road Friday morning, November 22, 2013. Icy conditions have led to multiple accidents around the Mat-Su Borough.
Brent Zoellner
A car tire is coated with ice during the winter storm Friday, November 22, 2013.
Bob Hallinen
Windows are coated with ice during the winter storm Friday, November 22, 2013.
Bob Hallinen
Windows are coated with ice during the winter storm Friday, November 22, 2013.
Bob Hallinen

Please see the latest version of this story here.

 

Update 3:10 p.m.

Anchorage received about two-tenths of an inch of ice from freezing rain Friday before snow started falling in midafternoon, according to Dave Stricklan, meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

“It seems like always in November we’ve had these types of situations and it gets pretty nasty,” he said. 

The ice sent many vehicles sliding, kept police dispatchers busy and closed off roads Friday afternoon. 

Anita Shell, Anchorage police spokeswoman, said most calls came in involved big-rig trucks that were not equipped to make it up icy hills. Police reported a crash involving a garbage truck and tour bus that couldn’t make it up a hill earlier Friday. 

A winter weather advisory remains in effect for Anchorage until midnight Friday. Stricklan said he expects snow to taper off by 5 a.m. Saturday. The city is expected to get between 3 and 6 inches of snow.

Update 2:55 p.m.

People Mover bus service has resumed in Anchorage after being suspended for more than three hours because of icy roads, according to Paula Kangis, marketing manager. She said people should still expect “significant delays” and possible re-routing. 

AnchorRIDES service remains canceled except for trips returning riders transported this morning back to their home locations and “life-sustaining trips."

Update 2:45 p.m.

Chugach Electric said power has been restored to its more than 2,600 meters in Girdwood and south that lost power during Friday's ice storm, according to an email from spokeswoman Sarah Wiggers.

Earlier, Wiggers said two Homer Electric units in Nikiski failed, which in turn tripped shutdowns at Bradley Lake and Cooper Lake and caused a blackout on the entire Kenai Peninsula. 

Some customers of Homer Electric are still without power, according to spokesman Joe Gallagher. He said he expects everyone to be back online by 3 p.m.  

Homer Electric is still investigating the cause of the outage.

Update, 2:26 p.m. Friday

Valley Mover is hoping to have buses at the downtown Anchorage Transit Center at 4:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. and says the buses will be traveling back to Mat-Su "with extreme caution" given poor road conditions. These will be the only Valley Mover buses in operation today. 

Update 1:40 p.m.

State offices in Anchorage and Mat-Su dismissed nonessential employees early Friday because of weather and road conditions. 

Dismissal was staggered at noon, 1 p.m. and 2 p.m., according to a release from the Alaska Department of Administration.

Jill Reese, spokeswoman with the Department of Transportation, said employees were sent home at the discretion of their supervisors. Some employees will stay past 2 p.m., but she recommended that if people want to do business with the state, they wait until Monday.

Update, 1:26 p.m. Friday

Alaska State Troopers say the Parks Highway just reopened at Mile 49, where a semi accident closed the highway temporarily.

Troopers by noon had logged 65 incidents on Valley roads. They urge motorists in the Mat-Su to expect intermittent road closures given the still-icy roads. 

Update, 12:52 p.m. Friday: 

The Parks Highway is closed at Mile 49 as the Alaska State Troopers work to clear an accident. Roads across Mat-Su remain glazed with ice and are treacherous. Knik-Goose Bay Road has reopened after a closure at about Mile 6.5, however. 

Authorities urge motorists wondering about conditions on main roads -- Knik-Goose Bay Road, the Glenn Highway, the Parks Highway, Palmer-Wasilla Highway -- to call the state's Mat-Su road hotline at (907) 745-2159. 

For other roads, the Mat-Su Borough hotline is (907) 745-9826.

Update 12:30 p.m.

Police have reported a rollover southbound on Seward Highway at Dimond Boulevard and are advising travelers to merge left before the 76th Avenue exit to avoid a lane closure. Injuries were reported, according to spokeswoman Anita Shell. 

East 15th Avenue remains closed from Orca Street to Lake Otis Parkway after a vehicle hit a tree and flipped Friday morning. The vehicle hit a water main, Shell said. 

The left northbound lane of Seward Highway approaching 15th Avenue also remains closed. A garbage truck could not make it up the hill and slid backward into two cars, Shell said. There were no injuries reported.

Since midnight, Anchorage police have responded to 24 accidents, two injury accidents and 36 vehicles in distress, Shell said.  

Update 12:10 p.m.

Chugach Electric has reported a blackout affecting the entire Kenai Peninsula, according to spokeswoman Sarah Wiggers. 

Wiggers said she was notified of the power outage affecting meters from Girdwood south around 11:30 a.m. Friday. She said two units tripped at Homer Electric at Nikiski, which in turn tripped units at Bradley Lake and Cooper Lake. 

Crews are working to restore power. The cause of the outage isn’t known at this time, Wiggers said.

“You know, not only do we have to have bad weather, then we have to have things like this happen,” she said. 

Update, 11:40 a.m. Friday 

Mat-Su road conditions described by an Alaska State Troopers sergeant as the worst he'd ever seen continue to plague motorists.

Along with at least three school bus accidents, a semi is in the ditch at Mile 55 of the Parks Highway, according to the Mat-Su Borough. Reports of vehicles in ditches continue to come in from Big Lake to Trunk Road near Mat-Su Regional Medical Center.  Authorities urge everyone to stay off the roads. 

Borough public works trucks are sanding and chipping dangerous roads but roads remain dangerous, officials say. 

MASCOT bus routes are cancelled. Valley Mover is operating on a reduced schedule just to bring passengers back from Anchorage.

Update 11:35 p.m., Friday

University of Alaska campuses at Anchorage, Eagle River and JBER have canceled all classes starting after 12:45 p.m. Friday because of icy road conditions. 

The UAA hockey game will continue this evening at Sullivan Arena as scheduled, according to an email form Jessica Hamlin, university spokeswoman.

People Mover has also suspended afternoon service because of road conditions, according to an email from Paula Kangis, marketing manager.

“We will monitor the conditions hourly to determine when buses will resume service,” she said.

AnchorRIDES has canceled service except for trips returning riders transported this morning back to their home locations and “life sustaining trips.” 

Update, 11:15 a.m. Friday

Icy road conditions have prompted cancellation of all after-school activities at the Anchorage School District, according to an email from spokeswoman Heidi Embley. 

School will continue to be held with normal release times. After-school Damp Fire programs will operate as scheduled, but parents are encouraged to pick up their children “whenever possible,” according to the email.

The All-State Music Festival at Bartlett High School will continue as planned, as will a wrestling tournament at Palmer High. 

Update, 11 a.m. Friday:

Anchorage police closed Minnesota Drive at 26th Avenue on Friday because of a tour bus stuck on the hill. Police spokeswoman Anita Shell said there were no passengers on the bus. 

Update, 10:52 a.m. Friday:

Mat-Su Borough officials now say two children and a bus driver were transported to the hospital for evaluation after a school bus overturned on Edlund Road. Alaska State Troopers say they received reports that the injuries involved were minor. More reports of accidents involving buses and multiple vehicle accidents in the Mat-Su are still coming in. 

Update, 10:45 a.m. Friday:

Alaska State Troopers say a Mat-Su school bus has overturned on an icy road near Wasilla. The bus was on its side on Edlund Road, which is off Fairview Loop Road.

Here's a statement from Mat-Su Borough:

"All 14 kids and bus driver are OK after bus overturned on Edlund Road and Lavender Lane in Knik-Fairview area. Medics checked everyone out. A bus and parent drivers took kids to school.

"Over on Settlers Bay, a bus slid sideways due to a driver that tried to pass on the icy hill. No injuries.

"Roads are dangerous. Multiple accidents reported in short time earlier. Weather report says the freezing rain expected to turn to snow after 3 p.m. Borough Public Works is out in force on roads."

Update 10:15 a.m., Friday:

The National Weather Service has issued an ice storm warning for Anchorage until noon Friday, according to meteorologist Dave Stricklan.

Stricklan said the area is expected to get three-tenths of an inch of ice, up from the one-tenth of an inch predicted earlier, with freezing rain continuing until between noon and 1 p.m. 

The precipitation has hit the frigid streets and made for difficult driving conditions, Stricklan said. 

“We’re looking at a high temperature right around freezing, 31 or 32,” he said. “But the ground is already fairly cold. I don’t think the ground is going to get above freezing.” 

A cold front is expected to move in later in the afternoon, bringing with it between 3 and 6 inches of snow. 

Update, 9:35 a.m. Friday: 

A layer of ice on main roads in the Wasilla area has led to at least 21 accidents or vehicles in distress in less than two hours, one serious enough to send two people to the hospital, authorities say.

Alaska State Troopers closed Vine Road west of Wasilla by 9 a.m. Friday due to icy conditions and the number of vehicles stuck on the road and the side of the road, troopers spokeswoman Megan Peters said. 

The injury accident involved a semi that jackknifed on the Parks Highway bridge near the Museum of Alaska Transportation & Industry west of Wasilla, according to Clint Vardeman, deputy director of the Mat-Su Emergency Services Department. 

Roads west and north of Wasilla are so bad that firetrucks can’t get from one emergency scene to another, both said. 

“It apparently is a real mess,” Vardeman said. “They're trying to get DOT trucks to sand right now.”

He said power was out in the Sutton area as well. 

The Mat-Su Borough School District around 8:45 a.m. made an automated call to families warning that the weather changed after the decision was made to keep schools open and buses might be delayed. The district decided to run buses after conditions changed in part because parents had already left for work and children were waiting at stops, according to the recording from district spokeswoman Catherine Esary.

“The number one issue today is for us to keep everyone safe,” Esary said. She instructed parents driving children to school to “please make the decision you believe is best for you and your family.” 

As of about 9:15 a.m. Friday, school transportation officials said buses had chained up and were running late. There were no reports of injuries but buses in the Pittman Road and Settlers Bay area had trouble, borough officials said. 

Update, 9:30 a.m. Friday:

Anchorage police have reported two non-injury vehicle accidents Friday morning, one caused by icy roads.

At East 15th Avenue and Sitka Street a vehicle went out of control and hit a tree around 8:52 a.m., according to Anita Shell, police spokeswoman. Police briefly closed 15th Avenue between Orca Street and Lake Otis Parkway.

Soon after, at 8:57 a.m., a two-car collision occurred at McRae Road and Spenard Road. Shell said she did not believe the weather to be a factor in the crash. 

Since midnight, police have responded to eight accidents and 10 vehicles in distress. That’s typical, Shell said. But still, she said, drivers should “use caution, drive slowly and avoid icy roads if they can.” 

Update, 9 a.m. Friday:

The Seward city manager sent home all non-essential city personnel Friday morning as rain continues to fall in the area after last night's snowfall.

"Every secondary road is just ice over snow,, and then it's still raining, so it's quite slick," said Brenda Ballou, deputy city clerk. 

Ballou said the city rarely sends home its employees. She noted her drive to work this morning wasn't easy. 

"I stuck to the main road so it was OK, but as soon as I had to turn off onto the secondary road it was just a blanket of ice," she said. 

The city also warned travelers of hazardous road conditions on the Seward Highway leading into Seward. 

"If you do not have to be on the highway today you are advised to not travel," said Johanna Kinney, Seward city clerk. 

Update, 6:45 a.m. Friday:

Weather advisories remain in effect for Anchorage and the Mat-Su on Friday, with freezing rain and several inches of snow forecast.

The Girdwood K-8 school is closed because of poor driving conditions on the Seward Highway, and school bus service between Girdwood and South High School has been canceled, the Anchorage School District said. Other Anchorage and Mat-Su schools are open as usual.

On the Kenai Peninsula, schools in Seward and Moose Pass are closed, according to the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District.

Freezing rain with ice forming on surfaces is forecast for Anchorage starting Friday morning, turning to all snow, possibly heavy, later in the day. Three to 6 inches of snow is forecast for Anchorage, and 4 to 7 inches for the Matanuska Valley. Five to 10 inches of snow is forecast for the Susitna Valley.

Read current weather advisories and forecasts here.

Earlier story:

Anchorage commuters can expect an icy end to the work week as Thursday's snow flurries turn into a wintery mix Friday morning, forecasters predict.

The storm, which worked its way up from Kodiak on Thursday, is expected to drop 2 to 6 inches of snow on Anchorage along with about one-tenth of an inch of ice and sleet, according to the National Weather Service. The service issued a winter weather advisory from midnight Thursday through late Friday.

The low-pressure system will boost temperatures in the region but perhaps not quickly enough to ease the Friday morning commute, according to Dave Stricklan, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Anchorage.

"It's going to take a little bit to get the ground warmed up," he said.

Stricklan said the mercury will climb from lows in the 10s and 20s late Thursday to highs in the upper 20s and 30s by Friday.

And what began as snow flurries Thursday night was expected to turn into a mix of sleet and freezing rain sometime after midnight, Stricklan said. When the precipitation hits the ground, which is already cold from this week's frigid temperatures, ice will form, he said.

The freezing rain should transition back into snow by Friday evening and taper off by the end of the day. There's a small chance of snow Saturday, Stricklan said, but "the main brunt of it will be tonight through Friday evening."

Winds also are expected to howl along Turnagain Arm and at higher Anchorage elevations, from 35 to 50 mph Friday morning, courtesy of the low-pressure system, said forecasters.

In Fairbanks, a winter weather advisory is in effect for the same system until 3 p.m. Friday. The National Weather Service expects wind gusts up to 40 mph over mountain summits and warns of blowing snow, according to Scott Berg, a meteorologist with the service in Fairbanks.

Nearly all areas surrounding Anchorage are also under a winter weather advisory for a portion of the day Friday as the storm moves through, including the Copper River Basin, Sustina Valley, the lower Kuskokwim Valley and the Bristol Bay region.

Reach Tegan Hanlon at thanlon@adn.com or 257-4589.

 

Winter weather advisory for Anchorage
Current Alaska weather watches
warnings
By ZAZ HOLLANDER AND TEGAN HANLON
thanlon@adn.com