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‘Like liquid banana peel’: Heavy snow across the Anchorage Bowl makes roads and walkways treacherous

  • Author: Anchorage Daily News
  • Updated: February 19
  • Published February 18

A storm that brought heavy snow to the Anchorage area peaked Tuesday afternoon, creating difficult driving conditions before it started to wind down in the evening.

Still to come: a few more inches overnight into Wednesday morning, said Jason Ahsenmacher, meteorologist at the National Weather Service. But the heaviest snowfall had occurred by Tuesday evening, he said.

Anchorage schools were set to be open Wednesday, with the exception of Girdwood K-8 due to whiteout conditions on the Seward Highway.

Good Morning ASD, Due to dangerous whiteout conditions on the Seward Highway, Girdwood K-8 school will be closed today....

Posted by Anchorage School District on Wednesday, February 19, 2020

The Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District canceled classes in all schools for Wednesday “due to weather and road conditions.”

Up to 12 inches of snow was expected to accumulate in Anchorage by Wednesday morning.

By early evening Tuesday, an official 8.2 inches of snow had already fallen at the National Weather Service’s Anchorage office near Kincaid Park, Ahsenmacher said.

Parts of West Anchorage saw similarly high snow totals, while areas farther east in the city reported lower numbers. The Hillside area reported 1 to 2 inches of snow by Tuesday evening, Ahsenmacher said.

From midnight to Tuesday afternoon, there were 66 crashes, many with minor injuries, according to Anchorage Police Department spokesman MJ Thim. Most involved vehicles stuck in ditches, Thim said.

With people leaving work early, Thim said, traffic was heavier than usual in the afternoon. The state’s executive branch offices closed at 2 p.m. in Anchorage and the Mat-Su because of the weather and road conditions.

Conditions along the Glenn Highway from Mile 29 to downtown Anchorage were difficult Tuesday, with icy patches and blowing snow, according to the Alaska Department of Transportation.

Frozen slush and icy road surfaces complicated travel on the Seward Highway between the Sterling Highway turnoff and the Hope Junction, while DOT warned about the possibility of hydroplaning.

Taylor Quattlebaum, right, adds the head to a snowman at Valley of the Moon Park during a steady snowfall on February 18, 2020. Nine-year-old Olive Brookwell helps at left. (Marc Lester / ADN)

Flat light and low visibility on Anchorage roads created issues for drivers, according to Anchorage police. The police department reminded drivers to keep headlights on and keep a safe following distance between cars.

The Municipality of Anchorage said it would have snowplow crews working on main roads through the night. However, plowing of residential roads won’t start until the snow stops and the main routes are completed.

The snow was wet and heavy, Michael Kutz, a meteorologist at the weather service, which makes for both dangerous walking and driving conditions.

“It’s like liquid banana peel,” he said.

The large storm front stretched from the eastern Bering Sea across the state and down to the northern Pacific Ocean, said Pam Szatanek, also a weather service meteorologist.

“The storm is enormous," she said.

A satellite view of a major storm moving across a large swath of Alaska on Monday. The storm brought heavy snowfall to Southcentral Alaska on Tuesday. (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)
A satellite view of a major storm moving across a large swath of Alaska on Monday. The storm brought heavy snowfall to Southcentral Alaska on Tuesday. (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

Overnight winds -- with gusts to 100 mph -- that caused power outages from the Anchorage Hillside to Whittier eased through Tuesday.

The Matanuska Valley saw less snow accumulation Tuesday, but residents driving into Anchorage may have encountered sudden changes in weather that would make the Glenn Highway hazardous.

Wasilla had around 6 to 7 inches of snow on Tuesday afternoon, Kutz said.

Talkeetna and the Susitna Valley were forecast to receive 6 to 12 inches of snow through Wednesday morning.

Sam Wirtanen leans into strong wind during a brief stop at Beluga Point on Turnagain Arm on Monday, February 17, 2020. Wirtanen and several others from the Palmer area were returning from a day skiing at Alyeska on Monday. (Marc Lester / ADN)

The Chugach National Forest Avalanche Information Center on Tuesday issued a backcountry avalanche warning in effect through Wednesday morning. The warning covers Turnagain Pass, the mountains along eastern Turnagain Arm, Summit Lake, Lost Lake and Seward.

“Travel in avalanche terrain is NOT recommended today!” the center said on Facebook.

Hatcher Pass was also under a backcountry avalanche warning in effect through noon Wednesday due to windy and snowy conditions in the area, and the Hatcher Pass Avalanche Center discouraged travel in avalanche terrain there.

A winter storm warning in Anchorage is relatively uncommon, Szatanek said. The last two warnings were in November 2019 and March 2013. The warning goes through 5 a.m. Wednesday.

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