Fairbanks

Interior Alaska travel ‘improving but still difficult’ after icy Christmas weekend storm followed by snow

Challenging road conditions persisted and several hundred people were still without power Thursday after a Christmas weekend storm brought snow and freezing rain and a subsequent snowfall blanketed the Interior.

A series of storms, including one that brought another 10 or 12 inches of snow to the Fairbanks area as of Wednesday morning, left power out and roads clogged into Thursday morning.

By Thursday afternoon, just over 230 people remained without power from a peak outage of 15,000, according to Golden Valley Electric Association. Homes have been without electricity for days: most outages occurred Sunday, when a combination of rain, freezing rain and wind hammered the Interior, weighing down power lines and trees.

There are additional outages linked to damage to “member-owned equipment” such as meter bases, according to Golden Valley spokesperson Ashley Bradish.

“We do have service crews patrolling the remaining outages to help members determine if they need to hire a contractor to make repairs,” Bradish said.

The utility was making use of more than 20 crews from GVEA and also contractors from the Interior and Anchorage who worked in “brutal conditions” -- snow, rain and sleet, and high winds -- to restore electricity, the utility said.

[Hundreds of air passengers headed for villages have been stranded in Bethel through the holidays due to endless storms]

Road conditions across the Interior and Fairbanks were “improving, but still DIFFICULT,” the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities said in an update Thursday morning. “That means travel will continue to be challenging, even in a vehicle properly equipped for winter driving.”

All state-maintained roads were expected to be plowed out by midday Thursday, according to the update. The department brought extra help to the Fairbanks area, including off-shift operators from other districts and contractors for cleanup work and hauling snow. Pickup plows will be out cleaning intersections.

The Steese Highway summits remained closed Thursday morning due to high winds and drifting snow, according to the Department of Transportation. Crews were working Thursday to open the highway and then send a plow to Circle to open the remainder.

The Alaska National Guard said Friday it had started assisting with evacuations within the Fairbanks North Star Borough.

Maj. Gen. Torrence Saxe, adjutant general of the Alaska National Guard, said they are working with the Alaska State Emergency Operations Center to coordinate efforts.

“The (State Emergency Operations Center) has been monitoring multiple weather-related incidents statewide this week,” said Saxe. “For many communities throughout the Interior, reports indicate widespread power outages and significant disruptions for both road and air travel, and we are working with state and local agencies to assist as needed.”

The National Guard teams use six-passenger trucks with chains and small winter support vehicles. It has a U.S. Army Arctic all-terrain, tracked vehicle that can carry about 15 people through heavy snow.

Snow depths in the Fairbanks area are on track with depths last seen in the record snowfall winter of 1990-91, according to National Weather Service snow data.

The weather service issued a winter storm watch for the area around Healy and Denali National Park for late Friday through Sunday afternoon including the Parks Highway south of the park entrance. The watch warned of possible blizzard conditions and winds up to 60 mph, bringing dangerously cold wind chills down to 60 below.

“Plan on very difficult to impossible travel conditions,” forecasters said.

Zaz Hollander

Longtime ADN reporter Zaz Hollander is based in the Mat-Su and is currently focused on coverage of the coronavirus in Alaska. She also covers the Mat-Su region, aviation and general assignments. Contact her at zhollander@adn.com.

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