Weather

Unusual windstorm triggers power outages and blowing-snow alerts

Students leaving Palmer Middle School brace against the wind and snow on South Chugach Street in Palmer on Jan. 29, 2018.(Marc Lester / ADN)

PALMER — Winds gusting to near hurricane force hammered Southcentral Alaska Sunday into Monday, triggering power outages and making for a difficult drive on the Glenn Highway.

The strongest winds — gusting from 65 to 70 mph — howled down the Matanuska River from downtown Palmer to the intersection of the Glenn and Parks highways, National Weather Service meteorologist Eddie Zingone said.

Winter winds are nothing new. But this storm was unusual because some of the blasts made it to Anchorage instead of blowing over Knik Arm, Zingone said.

Merrill Field and Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson measured gusts in the range of 40 to 52 mph Monday, he said.

Residents from Birchwood to Houston reported power outages as winds knocked down power lines and caused other damage. Large outages occurred in downtown Eagle River and along Fairview Loop near Wasilla.

The Mat-Su Borough closed its landfill, near Palmer, in response to 65 mph gusts. Solid waste officials didn't know if they would reopen Monday or Tuesday.

Don Hammond, one of the owners of Fly Around Alaska, cinches a Piper Super Cub down at the Palmer Airport during a windstorm on Jan. 29, 2018. (Marc Lester / ADN)

The Anchorage Office of Emergency Management issued a message Monday morning warning Glenn Highway drivers of blowing snow between Palmer and Anchorage.

Concerns about the weather prompted the Anchorage Police Department to cancel a SWAT training Monday at the city's new outdoor tactical range.

At Palmer's air field, the constant barrage had at least one upside.

"The airport is now free of all snow," said superintendent Frank Kelly.

The wind also led to another unusual weather situation: a 30-degree difference in temperature between East Anchorage's Campbell Tract, windless and 5 below early Monday, and windy spots like Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, where temperatures stayed in the mid-20s.

Talkeetna registered 23 degrees, while spots in Willow hit almost 20 below.

The gusts broke up the temperature inversions that usually trap colder air at the surface, Zingone said.

Wind blows dust and snow on the Matanuska River in Palmer on Monday. (Marc Lester / ADN)

But while a 15-degree difference isn't uncommon, "30 degrees is really getting up there," he said.

The storm-force gusts are the result of a tight pressure gradient formed by a high pressure system to the north and low pressure to the south, combined with cold, dense air squeezing through mountain passes and river channels.

The winds began to die down Monday afternoon, especially in Anchorage. But they're expected to continue on and off through the week, especially in the Matanuska Valley.