Weather

Anchorage schools closed again Friday after 3rd major storm deepens snow woes

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A third major storm in about 10 days blanketed Southcentral Alaska in snow Thursday, closing public schools in Anchorage and Mat-Su and making driving treacherous.

The Anchorage School District on Thursday evening opted to extend school closures into Friday, saying conditions “remain particularly hazardous for our student walkers and students at bus stops.”

As the snow tapered off early Thursday, the National Weather Service measured 9 inches of new snow at the agency’s Sand Lake offices — and just over 41 inches in the past 11 days.

[ADN Politics podcast: Anchorage streets have been a snowy mess. Does it have to be like this?]

Many drivers who braved a trip out got stuck, or encountered roads narrowed by large berms. People Mover and AnchorRIDES service was canceled in Anchorage on Thursday due to heavy snow. With sidewalks uncleared around the city, pedestrians walked in streets or scrambled over berms and through thigh-deep snow.

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Colson Petersen, dog, sled, sledding, snow, weather, winter

The Parks Highway was closed in both directions early Thursday between miles 133.5 and 127, north of Trapper Creek, after two tankers collided, killing one driver, the Alaska State Troopers said. The closure ended by 8 p.m. Thursday.

School districts in Anchorage and Mat-Su announced closures Wednesday evening as snow again began falling across the region.

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Anchorage district officials said they made a “call early” due to current conditions and forecasts for hazardous weather. Mat-Su announced another remote-learning day for Thursday, and just five schools were able to open Friday due to road conditions while the others stayed in remote-learning mode. The Anchorage School District also canceled all of Thursday’s after-school activities — except for state wrestling activities — as well as facility rentals, but on Friday, all after-school activities and facility rentals were set to resume. Mat-Su canceled most activities Thursday.

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[Anchorage is buried in snow. You have questions. Here are some answers.]

State offices in Anchorage and Mat-Su were closed Thursday, as were the University of Alaska Anchorage and Alaska Pacific University campuses.

State courts in Anchorage and Palmer were closed Thursday except for emergencies and a trial being held via Zoom involving an Alaska legislator’s membership in the far-right Oath Keepers.

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december, cold, snow, winter, snow storm, winter weather

Anchorage plow crews late Wednesday raced to make at least one pass through neighborhoods ahead the new storm. All residential streets were completed at 11 p.m. Wednesday, just before the next dump of snow arrived, according to a municipal update.

Tom Flynn cross-country skied to work downtown Thursday morning on the buried sidewalk of E Street. Downtown, a man slowly shoveled part of the roof of the Panhandle Bar. Some sidewalks were cleared downtown, others left pedestrians to climb over berms.

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Crews began clearing arterial and collector routes Thursday morning before starting another residential area “plow out” using plan A. They cleared using just single graders, an unusual strategy that’s faster than the usual method — two city plows working in tandem, leaving wide streets — but one that clears a narrower path and deposits potentially driveway-blocking berms.

Crews were also working on clearing city-maintained sidewalks and trails, according to the update.

Just 23 of the 30 graders operated by the city were in operation Thursday, according to a spokesman for the mayor’s office, with staff waiting on parts from the Lower 48 to get the equipment back up and running.

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Alaska Department of Transportation crews plowed main highways throughout the night and cleared other major roads throughout town on Thursday, said Justin Shelby, central region administrative operations manager. Conditions on many roads remained rough throughout the day.

Crews are expected to begin clearing lower-priority roads Friday and Saturday.

“Once we’re plowed out of all our routes, we’ll be going back and cleaning up those areas that need further cleanup and hitting the sidewalks as well,” he said. “And hopefully we’ll be able to begin hauling snow shortly after that.”

All roads should be plowed by Saturday and road conditions should significantly improve over the weekend and early next week, Shelby said.

[Snow days pile on complications and uncertainties for Anchorage School District and families]

Reported snow totals around the region Thursday morning varied from 9 inches in several parts of Anchorage to 10 inches in Eagle River, 11 1/2 inches at Palmer and 16 at Big Lake.

Reported snowfall amounts were fairly uniform around Anchorage at between 8 and 10 inches, according to meteorologist Shaun Baines. A little over 5 inches was reported in Sterling on the Kenai Peninsula and 2 inches in Nikiski.

Forecasters say this should be the last major snowfall for a while: Cold, clear weather is expected to settle over Southcentral and the Copper River Basin.

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Avalanche danger remained high in the Talkeetna Mountains around Hatcher Pass, a popular winter recreation destination.

A webcam captured a plume of snow tumbling down a steep mountainside across the Little Susitna River from the Skeetawk downhill ski area.

The avalanche danger in Hatcher Pass is “considerable at all elevations,” according to the Hatcher Pass Avalanche Center. The area got up to a foot of fresh snow into Thursday.

State transportation officials said the stretch of Palmer-Fishhook Road leading into Hatcher Pass will remain closed at Mile 14, just past the Gold Mint parking lot, until avalanche danger decreases.

— Daily News journalists Marc Lester, Emily Mesner, Loren Holmes and Morgan Krakow contributed reporting.

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Zaz Hollander

Zaz Hollander is a veteran journalist based in the Mat-Su and is currently an ADN local news editor and reporter. She covers breaking news, the Mat-Su region, aviation and general assignments. Contact her at zhollander@adn.com.

Tess Williams

Tess Williams is a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News, focusing on breaking news. Before joining the ADN in 2019, she was a reporter for the Grand Forks Herald in North Dakota and previously helped cover the Nebraska Legislature for The Associated Press. Contact her at twilliams@adn.com.

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