Anchorage and Mat-Su public schools will be closed on Thursday as the latest in a series of major storms hit the city with a fresh accumulation of snow.
The Anchorage School District made the announcement early Wednesday evening as snow again fell across the region.
“We are making the early call tonight due to current road conditions and forecasted hazardous weather conditions,” the district wrote.
“All ASD schools and support facilities are closed tomorrow. Only emergency staff should report for duty, including all facilities and maintenance staff. A decision about after-school and rental facilities activities will be made no later than Noon tomorrow. If there are no changes, plan on those activities.
“Unless otherwise announced, schools will reopen Friday.”
Schools in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District will be closed for a remote-learning day Thursday. An update on after-school activities in Mat-Su will be provided at 11 a.m., the district said.
The Parks Highway was closed in both directions early Thursday between miles 133.5 and 127, north of Trapper Creek, due to a commercial vehicle collision, the Alaska State Troopers said. The closure is expected to last hours.
Anchorage plow crews on Wednesday raced to make at least one pass through neighborhoods ahead of another major storm after back-to-back systems dumped at least 3 feet on much of Southcentral Alaska.
Several school buses got stuck Wednesday, Anchorage School District officials said, and another bus not carrying students was involved in a minor accident.
The Weather Service issued a winter storm warning starting 6 p.m. Wednesday through 9 a.m. Thursday. The forecast was calling for 7 to 10 inches in Anchorage with up to 14 on the Hillside, 6 to 11 inches for the Matanuska Valley, 4 to 10 inches for the Susitna Valley and 5 to 9 inches for the western Kenai Peninsula.
If the forecast holds, the new snowfall could spell anything from serious inconvenience to practically incapacitating depending on storm totals and plowing status.
Driving on state roads throughout Anchorage was still considered difficult Wednesday.
Municipal snowplows struggled to clear residential streets but continued making progress using a single-grader method that allowed crews to clear streets more quickly but not completely.
As of late Wednesday afternoon, an online municipal map showed that 45 sectors had been plowed, 13 were in progress and three hadn’t been started yet. Municipal street officials expected most of the sectors in progress to be finished by evening, and the remaining three to be done by early Thursday morning.
The single grader method means many driveways are being left with snow berms, said Paul VanLandingham, the city street maintenance manager in charge of plowing. He’s heard the complaints.
“It’s messier,” VanLandingham said.
But the approach — using just one plow to clear a street rather than sending them out in tandem — allows the plows to cover much more ground, faster, he said: A full “plow out” can be accomplished in about two days as opposed to three or four.
With the next storm bearing down, the city’s goal was to get the current “Plan B” plowing plan finished by early Thursday morning, meaning every residential street in Anchorage should have been visited by a plow at least once.
“My biggest concern is to get holes punched in all of these streets so everybody has a chance to get out of their driveway, get kids to school, get to doctor’s appointments, get...to work,” VanLandingham said.
Early Thursday, municipal officials planned to put plows back on duty clearing major roads, many of which have been narrowed by snow.
“Most of all arterials and collectors are down to one, one and a half lanes,” he said Wednesday. “We are going to attempt to get some crews out there tonight to widen them out as much as we can and to get them all plowed.”
Then, the city will go back to a “Plan A” residential area plowing schedule, also under a single-blade approach for speed, VanLandingham said. Areas with scheduled garbage pickup might be delayed by a day or so because it’s difficult to plow streets with garbage cans out.
After that round of plowing is finished — and the weather clears up — crews will start hauling away the huge accumulations of snow narrowing streets, he said.
Meanwhile, state snow crews charged with clearing some of Anchorage’s main thoroughfares this week also made operational adjustments in hopes of plowing through all the roadways before the next storm hits, said Justin Shelby, central region administrative operations manager for the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.
That means many streets, even main roads, remained in rough condition with fewer lanes and high snow berms, Shelby said.
Crews on Wednesday had already plowed main and arterial roads enough for them to open and were working to get through smaller streets, he said. They planned to shift back to maintaining main and arterial roads once the next round of snow began to fall Wednesday night.
On Tuesday, as the Anchorage School District reopened schools after a four-day closure, more than two dozen school buses got stuck in the snow and students braved towering berms trying to walk to schools.
District officials on Wednesday afternoon reported three late buses and four stuck buses early Wednesday morning. There was also an accident involving a bus and another driver who tried to maneuver around the bus and made contact, officials said. There were no students on that bus at the time, they said.
The section of Palmer-Fishhook Road that extends up into Hatcher Pass remained closed past the Gold Mint trailhead parking lot on Wednesday due to avalanche danger. State transportation officials said avalanche mitigation evaluation would be occurring over the next few days.
Avalanche danger in Hatcher Pass was high above 2,500 feet as of Wednesday, according to the Hatcher Pass Avalanche Center. Travel in avalanche terrain was not recommended.
Large natural avalanches were likely, the center said. Large human-triggered avalanches were very likely.
— ADN reporters Michelle Theriault Boots, Tess Williams and Morgan Krakow contributed reporting.