Anchorage struggled Tuesday to recover from back-to-back storms that blanketed the city with more than 3 feet of snow amid transportation tangles including dozens of school buses stuck in messy streets.
“Make no mistake, this will have major consequences for the Anchorage Bowl and portions of the Kenai Peninsula on Thursday,” the National Weather Service wrote Tuesday. “For both Kenai and Anchorage, it is likely this will be another significant snowfall starting Wednesday afternoon and going into Thursday morning.”
Driving on state roads throughout Anchorage was still considered difficult Tuesday. Municipal snowplows have struggled to clear residential streets since last week’s snowfall ended. Some residents say they have yet to get plowed out at all.
Anchorage schools reopened Tuesday, although district officials said attendance came down to parent choice because many streets and sidewalks had not yet been cleared. Schools in Mat-Su remained in remote learning for a second day, and some Kenai Peninsula schools opened with 2-hour delays.
Around 30 school buses got stuck at least briefly if not longer Tuesday morning out of just over 200 on the roads, according to district acting chief operating officer Rob Holland. Six more buses were stuck bringing students home after school, according to the district.
As of early Tuesday afternoon, Anchorage police had received eight “vehicles in distress” reports involving buses since midnight, according to a spokeswoman. But she said couldn’t confirm whether they were all school buses or whether there were any students aboard.
No People Mover buses got stuck Tuesday, a spokesman said.
People Mover services were suspended Monday but resumed Tuesday with anticipated delays and detours. Six People Mover buses got stuck on snowy roads Monday and a number of drivers couldn’t get to work because of road conditions, said Bart Rudolph, planning and communications manager for the municipality’s public transportation department.
Monday marked the first time services had been suspended since 2012, Rudolph said.
Drivers in Anchorage Tuesday reported main roads in the city clear, though at different levels. Most remained in rough condition, however, with large snow berms narrowing streets. Many side streets remained unplowed.
The street where Andrew Hodlofski lives near Rogers Park Elementary School had not been cleared at all as of Tuesday.
Deep ruts cut into the untouched snow where vehicles managed to maneuver through the mess. On Tuesday morning, Hodlofski’s wife initially got stuck when she tried to leave for her job as a nurse.
“She actually gave up and tried to ski to work this morning and then realized that that takes too long, came back, tried again and actually did get out,” he said.
The couple has stayed home as much as possible; his wife walked to the grocery store Monday and Hodlofski said he’s been teleworking. But that isn’t an option forever and he needs to leave for work Wednesday and his children need to get to school.
The Anchorage resident for about four years expressed frustration his street remains near impassable, especially considering that more snow is on the way.
“These are the types of things that are going to make people leave the city. We’ve already said that if this doesn’t get fixed within the next year, we’re going to start looking for other states to move to,” he said. “It’s just not worth it. I don’t want to live somewhere where they won’t even plow my street for a week.”
Many sidewalks remained buried with snow on Tuesday, forcing pedestrians to choose between walking on narrowed roadways or navigating deep snow piled alongside streets.
Zachary James, who is visually impaired, trudged through thigh-deep snow along West Benson Boulevard with his guide dog Major General in one hand and a cane in the other. He walked atop the unrecognizable sidewalk with a broken foot after he’d been dropped off by the bus Tuesday afternoon about a mile from his destination: the Alaska Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired.
”They need to do a better job at cleaning the sidewalks ‘cause someone might end up getting hurt,” James said.
Forecasts had initially called for the possibility of rain in Anchorage as part of the next storm system, but predictions shifted by Tuesday afternoon to potential rain on portions of the Kenai Peninsula, but snow north of that point.
Municipal snowplow crews were clearing residential streets as quickly as possible Tuesday morning ahead of the next storm, according to an online update. Crews dealing with excessive snow already on the ground were spreading out resources in an attempt to reach all neighborhood streets within a day, meaning residents should expect higher snow berms and narrow streets until the snow can be hauled off and the streets widened.
Alaska Department of Transportation snowplows had cleared snow from main and arterial roads in Anchorage by Tuesday morning, said Justin Shelby, central region administrative operations manager.
Crews were working to clear smaller state-owned roads on Tuesday and then planned to revisit main roads to clean them up, Shelby said, urging drivers to prepare for difficult road conditions for much of the week.
Anchorage saw 12 to 18 inches of snow Monday, days after the city received 1 to 2 feet of snow. The storms prompted four consecutive days of school closures.
There’s expected to be a slight reprieve on Tuesday, but snow is still expected to fall throughout the day. One to 3 inches of snow was expected in the Anchorage Bowl and 2 to 4 inches were forecast for the Matanuska Valley, said National Weather Service meteorologist Eric Drewitz. The snow was expected to continue until around 3 a.m. Wednesday, he said.
Another storm was expected to move into Southcentral Alaska again later Wednesday morning. The National Weather Service issued winter storm warnings from Wednesday afternoon through Thursday morning for Anchorage, the Matanuska and Susitna valleys and the Western Kenai Peninsula.
A front moving into the region from the southwest to the northeast is predicted to bring the heaviest snow by Wednesday afternoon and continue overnight.
The Weather Service was calling for 8 to 12 inches of snow in Anchorage, 6 to 13 inches in the Matanuska Valley and 8 to 14 inches in the Susitna Valley.
Eight to 14 inches of snow was expected in parts of the western Kenai Peninsula, with the most snow expected to fall near the Sterling Highway. Lower snow totals were expected toward Homer and along coastal areas. Rain could fall in areas south of Kasilof and along the southern Kenai Peninsula near the coast, Drewitz said.
Any rain that falls will freeze on contact with the cold ground, he said. This could cause icy, slushy roadways.
“If we start getting rain, I would advise drivers use extreme caution,” Shelby said. “If rain starts coming down, if it starts freezing, it’s going to make things even more complicated. Once that ice freezes on the road it’s going to be very difficult to get off.”
Hatcher Pass Road will be closed Tuesday at Mile 14, near the Gold Mint parking lot, because of unstable snow conditions. Avalanche danger was expected to rise on Tuesday afternoon and into Wednesday. The road closed for months last year after a series of historic avalanches blocked popular areas for skiing and snowmachining.
The storm was expected to taper off Thursday morning.
Anchorage Daily News photojournalist Emily Mesner contributed reporting.