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Snowy roads could complicate Thanksgiving travel along Turnagain Arm and through Susitna Valley

  • Author: Tess Williams
  • Updated: November 27, 2019
  • Published November 26, 2019

Snow is predicted to hit Southcentral Alaska on Wednesday afternoon, but meteorologists predict it will turn into rain throughout the Eastern Kenai Peninsula, Anchorage and Matanuska Valley by nightfall.

The Susitna Valley is expected to have a white Thanksgiving, however, with snowfall throughout the day.

National Weather Service meteorologist Mike Ottenweller warned that drivers traveling for the holiday along the Seward Highway corridor should be prepared for treacherous conditions.

Southeast winds of 30 to 50 mph with gusts of 60 to 80 mph are expected Wednesday until 5 a.m. Thursday throughout the Turnagain Arm and higher elevation areas in Anchorage, according to a high wind warning issued by the weather service. The high winds may move loose debris, damage property, cause power outages and create difficult driving conditions.

Ottenweller said visibility may be reduced to a half-mile as snow mixes with the high winds near the Turnagain Pass. Roads are expected to be worse near Portage and along Turnagain Arm.

Ottenweller said the Eastern Kenai Peninsula could see anywhere from 2 to 8 inches of snow Wednesday afternoon, according to a winter weather advisory. That snowfall is expected to turn into rain Wednesday night in areas of lower elevation, however. About 1 to 2 inches of rain is expected to fall throughout Thanksgiving Day in Seward, Whittier and Portage.

Meanwhile in Anchorage, temperatures began to steadily rise Tuesday. About 1 to 3 inches of snow is expected to fall Wednesday afternoon before temperatures shift to above freezing and rain begins that night, Ottenweller said.

He warned travelers to stay updated on the weather because there is a lot of uncertainty in the forecast, especially over Anchorage. The snow followed by rain could create dangerous, icy roads, Ottenweller said.

The rain may continue overnight, but Ottenweller said it will likely stop by Thursday morning and the area will dry out as warm winds move in. The high temperatures and rain will likely wipe out any snow on the ground, he said.

“In general, it’s going to be pretty light accumulation and start out pretty and looking wintry, but then the winds are going to elevate and the rain is going to take over,” Ottenweller said.

Conditions throughout the Matanuska Valley are expected to be similar to Anchorage, but the Susitna Valley could see over 2 feet of snow by the end of Thanksgiving Day.

The Susitna Valley will see 12 to 25 inches of snow, although some portions could have up to 32 inches, according to a winter storm warning issued by the weather service. Broad Pass is expected to see 2 feet of snow and Talkeetna and Valdez are forecast to have a foot.

“Anyone that likes snow, that’s the direction they should head,” Ottenweller said.

Snow is expected to start falling around noon Wednesday and continue until 4 p.m. on Thanksgiving, Ottenweller said.

Meteorologist Shawn Baines warned that travel may be difficult throughout the area, especially along Parks Highway.

There’s normally 5.7 inches of snow on the ground in Anchorage on Thanksgiving Day, according to climate statistics compiled by the weather service since 1952.

Anchorage had snow earlier in the week, with 1.9 inches of snow settling Sunday night near the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport and 4.5 inches recorded in Eagle River. Monday had the coldest low temperatures of the season so far, reaching 12 degrees Fahrenheit in West Anchorage.

Low temperatures in Anchorage are expected to remain in the mid- to high 20s from Wednesday until Friday, although high temperatures are expected to be in the mid- to upper 30s. Ottenweller said warm incoming winds could easily spike temperatures higher, although they’re not likely to hit record-breaking levels like the 49 degrees recorded on Nov. 21.

This fall has been unseasonably warm, with record-breaking temperatures near the end of October and into November.

Average temperatures for November are “way above normal,” Baines said. On average, it’s been 36.3 degrees every day since the beginning of the month through Monday. That’s 13.6 degrees above the normal average of 22.7 degrees.

The warmest November on record was in 2002 when the daily average temperature was 35.2 degrees.

Ottenweller said Southcentral Alaska is likely to end “in a very active storm track,” with rain and snow expected through Friday.

“It should quiet down a fair amount in the weekend,” he said.