Mother Nature kicked off Thanksgiving week in Alaska by seriously bitch-slapping the bulk of the state. An ice storm that started along the west coast over the weekend by Monday had the vast majority of the residents of the 49th state slip-sliding away. In many places, it was hard to walk across the road, let alone drive along it.
The ice-storm adventure started along the Bering Sea on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta and just kept powering east across the Aleutian Range and Alaska Range mountains into the Interior. As the National Weather Service warned Monday of a transition to heavy rain around Bethel in the west (put the sled dogs in their houses and get out the oil skins), the nasty, leading edge of the storm was coating in ice the populated core of the state to the east, from Anchorage to Fairbanks.
Hell-driving is how road conditions might have best been described in Anchorage. Ditches all around the state's largest city were filled with cars and trucks. On the ice-coated pavement itself, vehicles were sliding around like bumper-cars. Police could hardly keep up with the chaos.
To the north, in the
, the story was the same. Officials in the Valley closed some schools, and as in Anchorage, pleaded with people to stay home and avoid driving if at all possible. Weather forecasters were hoping for conditions to improve as rain moved in behind the ice storm, as happened in Bethel and other areas to the west, but they were also
Monday night and into Tuesday morning.
It is not unusual for powerful Pacific storms to push warm, moist air into Southcentral Alaska in the winter, but weather systems rarely lack the punch to drive on through the Alaska Range into the notoriously cold and usually dry Alaska Interior. But on Monday, even Fairbanks was getting a taste of what might be considered the worst of Seattle weather. As with their fellow Alaskans to the south of Denali National Park and Preserve, the citizens of The Golden Heart City were skating around on roads and sidewalks coated in frozen rain.
Fairbanks, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough and Anchorage are home to almost three-quarters of the state's population, and all were getting a reminder of what a Big Wild Life Alaska can be, whether one lives in the city or the Bush. Simply venturing out of the house Monday was in many places an adventure. Forecasters were hoping for conditions to improve by Thanksgiving Day, although what the improvement might be was unclear. Forecasts were decidedly mixed with weather prognosticators calling for rain, rain mixed with snow, snow or simply a return to icebox conditions -- depending largely on the distance from the coast.
In Fairbanks on Monday afternoon, the temperature was 34 degrees, but by Thursday night the weatherman was expecting it to be back down to 10-below. The latter is the norm for the Interior city at this time of year. The former is a real fluke.
Alaska Dispatch Publishing