Alaska News

Seward Highway reopens after avalanche sweeps over road near Sterling Highway

An avalanche estimated to be 400 feet wide closed the Seward Highway for several hours on Saturday near its intersection with the Sterling Highway on the Kenai Peninsula, cutting off many highway travelers in Southcentral Alaska on Christmas Eve.

The closure, which was announced just after 8 a.m. Sunday, ended about seven hours later. The Seward Highway, the main artery connecting Kenai Peninsula communities to Anchorage, reopened after state crews managed to clear debris 3 feet deep from the road.

“Crews continue to monitor the area and continue cleanup as needed,” the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities said on social media.

The avalanche, which occurred at Mile 37, had blocked all lanes of the highway between Mile 36 and 40, the state transportation department said, noting that crews “from Soldotna to Seward to Girdwood are responding.”

The National Weather Service noted that several areas in Southcentral Alaska received rain overnight gradually turning into snow: “While the weather will be improving, recent snowfall and rain-on-snow may lead to poor travel conditions.”

By Sunday evening, 24-hour snow totals ranged from 3.6 inches at the weather service’s Anchorage office up to a foot in Potter Valley. In the Mat-Su, Wasilla and Palmer received up to 9 inches of snow.

The new snowfall “puts Anchorage at 78.0″ of total snow for this season! Which is 0.1″ above our normal annual snowfall!” the weather service posted on social media.


Heavy snowfall and strong winds creating highly dangerous conditions prompted the Chugach National Forest Avalanche Information Center to issue an avalanche warning for backcountry recreators through Sunday evening. The zones covered in the alert included the western Chugach and Kenai Mountains stretching from the Girdwood area down through Portage, Turnagain Pass, Summit Lake, Lost Lake and Seward.

“Travel in avalanche terrain is NOT recommended,” the avalanche center’s warning said, citing the potential for large human-triggered and natural slides. Aside from backcountry danger, the center said roof avalanches were likely, and urged people in those areas to “pay attention to children, people and pets under roofs shedding snow.”

Closer to Valdez, the Richardson Highway was closed from Mile 19 to 65 at Thompson Pass for a winter storm and avalanche mitigation work, transportation officials said Sunday, noting that crews brought down a slide at Mile 39. The highway reopened Sunday night.

And in the Interior, an avalanche closed the Richardson in both directions from Mile 182 to 200, north of Paxson, as crews worked to clear debris for a reopening Sunday evening, according to the state transportation department.

Public safety officials recommend that travelers check for the latest road information.