The Anchorage area received less snowfall than expected — but a drizzle of freezing rain — from a storm passing through Alaska that left Fairbanks residents making their way to work through as much as a foot of snow early Friday.
The 161-mile Steese Highway between Fairbanks and Circle was closed between Mile 101 and Mile 114 on Friday due to "winter storm conditions," according to the state Department of Transportation.
Steese Hwy closed at MP101-114 due to winter storm conditions. Travel is not advised. Details and updates at https://t.co/hM7DSyXgf3 pic.twitter.com/T5hSyIflnk
— Alaska DOT&PF (@AlaskaDOTPF) December 30, 2016
A National Weather Service winter weather advisory Thursday for the Anchorage area called for 2 to 7 inches of overnight snow, as well as a Mat-Su winter storm warning for as much as 10 to 13 inches of snow in higher elevations. Both expired at 9 a.m. Friday.
Meteorologist Michael Kutz said the agency's office in West Anchorage had received 2 inches of snow by early Friday. Freezing rain, briefly reported overnight Thursday in Kenai, Soldotna and Seward, was also falling in the Anchorage area Friday morning but tapered off.
Anchorage Police Department dispatchers said they received reports of 19 "vehicles in distress" and one noninjury crash between midnight and 11 a.m. Friday.
Tom Pepe, another Anchorage-based meteorologist, said Southcentral snowfall tallies as of Friday morning were below expectations, including 2 inches of snow at his East Anchorage home and 2 to 3 inches reported by colleagues. Reports in Palmer ranged from 2 to 4 inches of snow, although Hatcher Pass received at least 8 inches.
"The snow ratios were not as good as all the models were keying in on," Pepe said. "What turned out was a little drier than we expected."
Some Anchorage snowfall occurred early Friday as a "freezing drizzle," Pepe said, also reported as freezing rain by drivers.
Kutz said overnight accumulations along with Thursday's snowfall are expected to make for harder driving conditions on the Glenn Highway.
"I would definitely be taking my time coming in on the Glenn, between the old stuff that was there and the new stuff that's fallen," Kutz said. "It's going to make it difficult for (drivers) to spot lanes and keep from sliding out of the stud grooves on the highway."
The Seward Highway saw overnight snowfall of 6 to 8 inches, Kutz said, with higher totals occurring in the Turnagain Pass area.
Moving into the weekend, the forecast calls for clear skies and slightly cooler temperatures, said NWS Anchorage meteorologist-in-charge Sam Albanese. There is no snowfall expected for Anchorage or Wasilla in the next several days, he said.
"It's quieted down quite a bit," he said.
In Fairbanks, NWS meteorologist Ed Plumb said overnight snowfall estimates of close to a foot were commonplace across the region.
Snow accumulation in Fairbanks and surrounding Interior communities generally totaled 10 to 15 inches by Friday evening, with North Pole and Salcha getting the highest amounts, said lead meteorologist Christopher Cox.
Hardest hit was west Fairbanks. The local airport recorded a 50 mph wind gust during one of several snow squalls – a period of heavy snowfall with strong blowing winds – through Friday, Cox said.
It is snowing good here at our office on the UAF Campus in Fairbanks. How much snow have you had so far today? #akwx pic.twitter.com/FpxdHD9u0K
— NWS Fairbanks (@NWSFairbanks) December 30, 2016
Fairbanks Police Department spokesperson Yumi McCulloch said six collisions and 17 vehicles in distress had been reported by Friday afternoon.
The Fairbanks NWS office issued a winter storm warning Friday morning for the eastern Interior, calling for additional evening snowfall of up to 7 inches, which would bring the city's total to 19 inches.
"Extreme caution should be used if venturing into the outdoors as heavy drifting of snow will occur and roads and trails may become impassable," meteorologists wrote. "The strong winds and heavy snow on trees will be hazardous as trees may be blown down blocking trails and potentially knocking power lines down."
McCulloch said sporadic power outages occurred Thursday evening in the North Pole area. Power in areas of town went in and out during the day.
As of 8 p.m. Friday, about 200 homes along Chena Ridge Road were without electricity; about 50 people had no power just south of Eielson Air Force Base, according to a Golden Valley Electric Association outage map.
Potential for outages remained high as heavier snow was expected sometime after midnight, Cox said.
Reports from the western Interior, including Kaltag and Galena, included 8 to 12 inches of snow. Plumb said totals from the state's West Coast, including Nome and Kotzebue, were inconsistent due to high winds and blizzard conditions.
Alaskans living on the west end of the Seward Peninsula were bracing for another round of severe weather Friday night as NWS forecasted strong winds would cause sea levels to surge 3 to 9 feet at high tide.
Minor flooding was already reported Thursday night in Golovin and Shaktoolik, and water inundated the airport runway in Gambell, according to the agency.
Much of the state north of Bethel remained under winter storm warnings Friday, which were set to expire early Saturday.