A storm that dropped up to 30 inches of snow on Anchorage and 3 feet in parts of Southcentral Alaska canceled public transportation Friday and left a trail of lingering power outages and rough roads.
Officials with the National Weather Service in Anchorage recorded an official storm total of 17 inches at their offices at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport but received reports of 22 to 30 inches on the Anchorage Hillside, 16 to almost 19 inches in Eagle River, and more than 2 feet across Hiland Road.
The amount recorded at the agency’s offices — 9 inches Wednesday and 8.2 inches Thursday — broke daily records of 7.3 inches in 1982 for Nov. 8 and 7.1 inches in 1956 for Nov. 9.
By Friday afternoon, officials warned of slick surfaces as higher temperatures melted water on top of snow, creating an icy layer that made for treacherous driving and walking. Even as state and municipal crews worked to clear highways and major arteries, drivers reported narrow lanes and rutted washboard roads that made for slow, jarring travel.
People Mover buses were canceled for a second day Friday, leaving riders without regular service for at least three days in a row: Service was suspended during the storm Thursday and bus operations will also be closed Saturday in observance of Veterans Day.
Heavy snow and challenging road conditions Friday made it unsafe to operate buses, according to Randy Brown, acting planner and communications manager for the municipal transit department. AnchorRIDES services were operating only for essential trips on Friday, including rides to dialysis, to cancer treatment and to get essential oxygen or medical supplies.
It’s rare for the city to cancel bus services. Officials enacted what they said was the first cancellation in a decade last year during a series of back-to-back snowstorms that complicated travel for weeks.
On Friday, Brown said the municipality was hearing complaints about the suspended service mixed with a few compliments about prioritizing safety.
“People are frustrated,” he said. “They’re disappointed and they’re inconvenienced by it, understandably.”
By Friday evening, a couple thousand Southcentral Alaska homes and businesses remained without power, down from the more than 12,000 in Anchorage, Mat-Su and on the Kenai Peninsula that were without power at some point earlier due to the storm.
On Thursday, crews struggled to catch up or get ahead of outages as heavy snow fell. Road conditions also prevented them from reaching some locations.
Continuing snow through Friday was triggering new outages.
Chugach Electric Association reported at about 7 p.m. Friday that they had just over 1,100 customers without power, including about 250 in Hope and more than 600 on the Hillside as well as other scattered outages.
Just over 200 members in Mat-Su were without power Friday night, according to Matanuska Electric Association.
About 200 customers remained without power on the Kenai Peninsula, according to an update from Homer Electric Association.
The storm behind the heavy snowfall was closely watched all week. Forecasters several days ago warned that the approaching system could bring heavy snow or rain, though the form and amount of precipitation was proving hard to pin down.
Snow began falling throughout the region Wednesday and continued into Thursday afternoon. Amid treacherous road conditions Thursday, the Alaska Department of Transportation and Alaska State Troopers warned drivers to stay home. The Seward Highway closed for much of the day because the road was impassable.
Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson declared a snow emergency that allows the city to call on private contractors to help with snow removal.
Snowplow drivers finished clearing municipal arterial and collector streets by early Friday afternoon and began clearing residential streets, the Office of Emergency Management wrote online. The plows will first clear streets designated as a priority in their A map.
The goal is to finish clearing streets over the weekend, said Veronica Hoxie, a spokesperson for the mayor’s office. Crews will then turn their attention to trails and sidewalks, she said.
Plowing operations faced significant challenges last year due to major snowstorms paired with short staffing and mechanical failures. Hoxie said all equipment in Anchorage was fully operational this week and the municipality had hired additional operators.
“As far as any sort of delays, a lot of the guys are new and they’re learning the ropes right now,” she said. “So we’re just asking for patience from the public. ... They’re learning how to get going and they’ve got a record-breaking snowstorm to learn from.”
The state Department of Transportation had finished plowing highways and associated ramps near Anchorage as well as Minnesota Drive by early Friday afternoon, said spokesman Justin Shelby. Crews were moving onto other high-priority roads including Northern Lights and Dimond boulevards, he said.
The department aimed to begin clearing their lower priority roads by early Saturday, Shelby said. They’ll first clear routes into the Hillside, he said.
As snow continued to fall Friday, crews may return to the highways or pass over other major roadways as needed, Shelby said.
The state transportation department also grappled with staffing shortages and equipment breakdowns last year, a situation Shelby said was significantly better this year though a “constant undercurrent of concern.”
The Matanuska-Susitna Borough warned that residential streets could take plow contractors longer to reach because of “the unusual freeze/thaw conditions and significant weight of the wet snow.”
After the storm tapered off, light snow fell overnight Thursday and into Friday and mixed with rain in some areas of the Kenai Peninsula, Mat-Su and on the Glenn Highway near Anchorage, said National Weather Service meteorologist Nicole Sprinkles.
Saturday was expected to bring colder temperatures with no precipitation, but Sprinkles said another storm system could be moving into the area Sunday or Monday. There was still a lot of uncertainty about how much snow that next system could bring, she said.