Anchorage is buried in snow. You have questions. Here are some answers.

Anchorage is facing an unprecedented burst of rapid-fire snowstorms that have dropped about 3 feet of snow in less than a week, blocking streets, cancelling school and generally making travel tough. More snow is expected Wednesday night, with forecasters calling for “significant” snowfall overnight.

Readers have posed questions about the snow situation, and we have answers. Here a few that you’ve asked — about gas meters, snow plowing and whether your roof will cave in. We’ll answer more as we’re able.

What order is the city plowing streets in?

The city focuses on plowing main arterial and collector roads first.

From there, two rotations dictate the order residential streets will be plowed in: Plan A and Plan B, said municipal street maintenance manager Paul VanLandingham.

[Anchorage plow crews push to clear neighborhoods ahead of next ‘significant snow event’]

Plan A calls for parts of East Anchorage, areas near the Ted Stevens International Airport, downtown and the Midtown corridor to be plowed first. Areas plowed second include much of Turnagain, Spenard and the Lake Otis Parkway corridor. Areas plowed last include Government Hill, areas of Inlet View and Bootlegger’s Cove and a big swath of Southwest Anchorage.

In Plan B, the order flips -- those areas are supposed to be cleared first. (Those sectors in the middle stay in the middle of the order.)


The scenarios are a loose plan and plows deviate from them when things like garbage collection days conflict with plowing schedules, said VanLandingham.

A map showing which areas have been plowed is updated at least once or twice a day, he said. Some areas of the city aren’t served by municipal plowing. Many parts of the Anchorage Hillside are considered “Limited Road Service Areas” or “Rural Road Service Areas” with their own street maintenance arrangements.

Why are city plows leaving berms that make it hard to get out of my driveway?

In more typical snowstorms, two city plows work in tandem, leaving wide, flat streets scraped almost down to the asphalt.

“You have two graders coming, basically covering the full width of the road: Pass in, pass out and push everything wide,” VanLandingham said.

But this time, with huge back-to-back snowfalls, VanLandingham said he’s going for speed.

[More coverage of Anchorage’s December snowstorms]

Plowers are using a “single blade” approach, which means just one plow on a street at a time.

“It’s something that I can only remember happening maybe once in the 26 years that I’ve been here,” he said.

Plow crews can cover more ground but the plows can leave berms of snow, including some that block driveways, he said. It leaves streets “messier,” VanLandingham said, but a full plow-out of every residential street can be accomplished in as little as two-and-a-half days, rather than three or four.

Should I check my natural gas meter and outdoor vents?

Don’t forget about your gas meter. If there’s an emergency or fire, crews will need to access it quickly, said Lindsay Hobson, a spokesperson for Enstar Natural Gas.

If it’s buried in snow, that will take more time. The best thing to do is very gently brush it off with a broom, Hobson said.

People should also check to make sure their gas-powered appliances are venting safely, Hobson said. That means checking to see if any external vents are covered or blocked by snow, which could cause a dangerous carbon monoxide accumulation in homes.

Also: Every winter, plow trucks hit gas meters and damage them, especially at commercial properties, Hobson said.

“It happens all the time,” she said.

It’s important to know where your gas meter is and to make contracted plowing drivers aware of it so they don’t accidentally shovel snow over it or hit it, she said.

When should I be worried about snow loading on my roof?

So far the snow that’s fallen hasn’t been especially dense, says Don Hickel, the municipality’s top structural home inspector.

But if even a little rain falls — watch out.


“I would get worried if we start getting rain,” he said. “Especially if you have a flat roof and the building was built in the 1980s.”

If rain falls, “the snow acts as a sponge and so all that rain it just collects and they get heavier and heavier and heavier,” he said.

Removing snow from flat roofs and carports is a good idea, he said. Homes built more recently than the ’80s tend to have fewer problems.

“We’ve come light years with engineering and the code requirements,” he said. “And the inspections are much better.”

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Related coverage:

Anchorage pedestrians navigate a post-snowstorm obstacle course

Students returning to school in Anchorage faced with stuck buses and snow berm-covered sidewalks

Anchorage breaks annual precipitation record with combination of summer rain and recent snow


One reason for snowplow delays? Poor planning and preparation in City Hall, say elected officials

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Michelle Theriault Boots

Michelle Theriault Boots is a longtime reporter for the Anchorage Daily News. She focuses on in-depth stories about the intersection of public policy and Alaskans' lives. Before joining the ADN in 2012, she worked at daily newspapers up and down the West Coast and earned a master's degree from the University of Oregon.