Anchorage and Mat-Su residents contended with blowing snow and power outages Friday as howling winds hammered Southcentral Alaska. Heading into the busy holiday weekend, some also saw their travel plans dashed due to freezing rain at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and high winds at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport.
Follow along with our weather and travel updates below.
1 p.m. Saturday: Electric company looks into opening temporary warming shelter as outages persist
According the Matanuska Electric Association, a little over 1,000 households in the Mat-Su were still without electricity by early Saturday afternoon.
The company wrote earlier Saturday that it was possible that some members would still be without power by Christmas Day, and said they were working with the Mat-Su Borough to see about possibly opening a temporary shelter for residents still without power who may be needing water, food and warmth.
“We have some crews that had to go on rest and more crews coming in this afternoon,” the utility company said in a social media post. “We have reached out to our neighboring utilities to see if they have any crews available to come assist.”
A wind-chill advisory for the Matanuska Valley had expired by late morning, though gusts up to 50 mph and blowing snow were still being forecast through 3 p.m. in parts of the Valley.
6:30 a.m. Saturday: Around 1,500 dwellings in Mat-Su still without power as blizzard conditions persist
Power had been restored Saturday morning in much of the Mat-Su, though the Matanuska Electric Association outage map still showed around 1,500 members without electricity. The remaining outages were scatted throughout the region, from Petersville to Palmer.
“Most of the remaining outages are impacting under 100 members so further gains in reducing our total number out will be slow progress from here,” the utility wrote on Facebook.
Scattered flight delays, with some cancellations, continued at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, as airlines grappled with severe weather across the country.
A wind-chill advisory remained in effect for the Matanuska Valley, with blizzard conditions, north winds from 25 to 40 mph and gusts to 55 mph, according to the National Weather Service. “Widespread blowing snow will significantly reduce visibility,” the weather service said. “Very strong winds could cause tree damage and power outages. Cold wind chills as low as 20 to 30 below zero could cause frostbite on exposed skin in as little as 10 minutes.”
9 p.m. Friday: Thousands in Mat-Su still without power
Matanuska Electric Association’s outage map showed around 8,400 members affected by power outages across its service region, from Eagle River through Palmer and Wasilla, up north to Trapper Creek. Outage numbers bounced up and down throughout the day as crews made repairs and the wind knocked out power in different areas.
On Friday afternoon, the association described receiving “dozens upon dozens of reports of trees on the line” as well as the difficulty crews had reaching repair areas due to snow drifts obstructing roadways and rights-of-way. “Dispatch is working with crews to prioritize those who have been without power the longest,” Matanuska Electric said Friday evening on Facebook.
5 p.m. Friday: Anchorage airport travelers scramble after delays, cancellations
On Friday afternoon, customer service lines wrapped around airline kiosks and intertwined with one another at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport as travelers scrambled to rebook holiday flights after cancellations and delays in Anchorage, Seattle and beyond. The occasional ugly Christmas sweater and bright red Santa Claus hat broke up a sea of weathered suitcases and frustrated faces.
In one line, Anchorage teacher Paul Kostival waited with his bag, occasionally looking at his phone for flight updates and commiserating with fellow travelers. They made the most of it, though, admiring each other’s Crocs and wishing passing travelers a “Merry Christmas.”
Kostival was hoping to make it to Columbus, Ohio, in time for Christmas with his family. Now, he’s not sure when he will make it.
“I would have probably been rolling in the driveway right now,” he said. “I need a miracle.”
Kostival waited more than two hours before reaching the front of the line. There, he spoke with Alaska Airlines costumer service agent Usoalii “Lii” Michael, who was helping fill in on her day off, about rescheduling or booking through a different airline.
Options were limited as Kostival weighed flying standby in Chicago or Phoenix.
Stories like Kostival’s were ubiquitous around the Alaska Airlines check-in area, and patience waned as lines became inert.
Jeanie Johnson, her children and her husband, Devin Johnson, were supposed to be at the pyramids of Giza in Egypt on Christmas Day –– a bucket-list item for her. Instead, she and her husband took turns waiting on hold for hours before rebooking a flight the day after Christmas.
Australia residents Chris Insanally, wife Steph Insanally and their children had been at the airport since 1:30 a.m., after arriving from Fiji early Friday morning. This is their first time in Alaska, and the family planned to spend three nights of their family vacation in Fairbanks. Instead, on Friday, they were stuck in Anchorage.
“Good luck, guys,” Chris Insanally said to Jeanie Johnson as he and his family left to find food.
“I hope you get to see the northern lights,” she replied.
3:20 p.m. Friday: Parks Highway closed at Palmer-Wasilla Highway
Both lanes of the Parks Highway are closed between the Palmer-Wasilla Highway and Crusey Street, the Wasilla Police Department said on Facebook.
“We can’t stress enough that you should NOT be on the roads right now. It’s extremely dangerous outside,” police said. “Avoid the area. Very large drifts with multiple vehicles stuck. No idea when it’ll be completely open, just avoid it for now.”
2 p.m. Friday: Mat-Su wind gusts reached nearly 80 mph; power restored to some
Wind gusts reached 77 mph Friday at the Palmer airport and 73 mph at the Wasilla airport, according to National Weather Service meteorologist Matthew Fazal.
In Anchorage, the top wind gust was recorded at the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, where Fazal said a 68 mph gust was recorded. Winds varied throughout town and were strongest in West Anchorage.
The Anchorage airport had sustained winds around 24 mph at 1:20 p.m., Fazal said. More gusts were still possible, but the winds were diminishing in Anchorage during the afternoon. Fazal said strong winds were expected to calm in the Mat-Su through the night and end by Saturday morning.
The National Weather Service extended the blizzard warning for the Matanuska Valley until 9 a.m. Saturday.
By 2 p.m., Matanuska Electric Association reported that fewer than 9,000 members were still experiencing power outages. In Anchorage, Chugach Electric’s outage map indicated fewer than 60 outages at that time.
Noon Friday: Alaska Airlines cancels some Anchorage flights
Alaska Airlines canceled some flights Friday at the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport due to high wind, said Tricia Bruckbauer, a spokeswoman for the airline. Alaska travelers were also impacted Friday by cancellations in Portland and Seattle. Bruckbauer said all Alaska Airlines flights in and out of Seattle were canceled until at least 1 p.m. and canceled until at least 6 p.m. in Portland.
It may be several days before travelers who had flight cancellations can get onto a different flight, she said.
“We strongly encourage guests whose flights are canceled to reassess their travel plans due to the limited availability,” she said. “Obviously that’s easier said than done — we’re up against a holiday.”
Anyone traveling should check with their flight status with their airline, she said. Alaska Airlines call centers were experiencing long wait times and Bruckbauer recommended that customers make travel adjustments online.
Trygve Erickson and his wife were loading luggage into their car around 8:30 p.m. Thursday and preparing to drive from Willow to the Anchorage airport when they got a text message from Alaska Airlines: “Sorry, your flight has been cancelled.”
Erickson said they were directed to a website and then called customer service, eventually signing up to receive a call back. It wasn’t likely they’d be able to leave for New Orleans, their destination, until Monday, so he said they decided to stay home for the holidays.
“It could have been much worse. ... We could have made it to Seattle and we probably would have been stuck at Sea-Tac for a couple of days,” he said.
At the Lake Hood airstrip, some scrambled on Friday to check on planes parked there as high winds whipped through West Anchorage.
Noon Friday: Intermittent Glenn Highway closures possible near Palmer Hay Flats
There may be intermittent closures on the Glenn Highway near the Palmer Hay Flats Friday as tow trucks and Alaska State Troopers work to get vehicles out of snow drifts, a spokesman for the troopers said. Only one lane of the highway was drivable Friday morning due to the snow drifts.
In downtown Anchorage, water flooded several Friday morning as a water main broke and a fire hydrant was struck.
Anchorage Water and Wastewater Utility was notified around 10:30 a.m. that water was surfacing on Second Avenue near Buttress Park, said Sandy Baker, a spokeswoman for the department. Crews responded to the area and found there was a break on First Avenue in front of the train depot, she said. No road closures are expected in the area.
A fire hydrant was struck on C Street, sending water onto the area between Third and Fourth Avenues, Baker said. The hydrant was removed and turned off, she said.
11 a.m. Friday: Palmer Municipal Airport closes
The Palmer Municipal Airport closed Friday as extreme wind gusts hit the region.
The high winds caused drifting snow on sections of state roadways, according to Shannon McCarthy, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities. Driving conditions were worse on the Glenn Highway near Palmer and in the Mat-Su and also challenging near the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, she said.
State maintenance resources were being moved to the Matanuska and Susitna valleys to keep roads open, she said.
Original story: Power outages affect over 19,000 in Southcentral; weather disrupts air travel
As Anchorage and Mat-Su residents contended with howling winds, blowing snow and power outages Friday, some also saw holiday travel plans dashed due to bad weather at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
Winds hit 60 mph gusts in parts of Anchorage and higher in Palmer by morning, causing major problems for electrical equipment all over the region. More than 19,000 households from Eagle River and Chugiak to Big Lake were without power by 10:50 a.m. Friday as winds triggered widespread outages, according to Matanuska Electric Association. In Anchorage, over 200 households were without power as well by that time, according to Chugach Electric Association.
Airport officials said Friday morning that driving conditions were challenging on many roads surrounding the airport, and traffic on the main road leading into the airport was moving slowly, if at all. An Alaska State Troopers alert for Mat-Su warned that blowing snow and drifts made driving conditions even on major roadways “extremely challenging” and advised residents not to go out unless absolutely necessary.
“If you must be out today, please ensure that you have a shovel and winter-weather clothing in your vehicle if you get stuck,” the alert said.
Impassable drifts closed roads in Palmer on Friday morning as police asked drivers to give crews time to clear. The Palmer courthouse said it had closed by 10:30 a.m. because of a power outage, with emergency proceedings to be handled out of Anchorage. Glenn Highway commuters traveling between Mat-Su and Anchorage reported zero visibility at times on the Flats, with snow drifting into the roadway making for a harrowing drive in.
Troopers had responded to several collisions and dozens of vehicles in distress across Mat-Su by 9 a.m. Friday, according to spokesman Austin McDaniel. No fatalities had been reported.
A 60 mph gust hit the airport around 8 a.m. Side roads around the Anchorage airport Friday morning were blocked or partially blocked by snow drifts, according to spokeswoman Megan Peters. Main roads were in reasonably good shape, Peters said, but road conditions were hazardous anywhere off main areas.
Traffic on International Airport Road was moving so slowly Friday morning that Peters said that “coming to the airport might be challenging for people.”
She advised travelers to check the status of their flight with the airline carrier.
A winter storm dropping freezing rain on Seattle complicated travel out of Anchorage Friday. All runways shut down at Sea-Tac just after 4 a.m. Friday due to icy surfaces though the airport de-iced and reopened one runway just before 6 a.m.
Airport officials said that limited operations “will continue to be weather dependent” and urged travelers to monitor flights and stay in touch with airlines.
Conditions at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport were already disrupted before ice shut down Sea-Tac. The airport warned the parking garage and all parking lots were at capacity and instructed travelers to “make arrangements to be dropped off and picked up to avoid delays when traveling.”
Winds in Anchorage rose early Friday and just before 7 a.m. gusted as high as 55 mph at Ted Stevens International Airport, with most of the higher readings on the north and west side of Anchorage and almost no wind in East Anchorage, according to the National Weather Service. The airport was seeing sustained winds of around 35 mph.
Readings were higher in the Matanuska Valley, where northeast winds howled through the night.
Palmer registered sustained winds of 40 to 50 mph with gusts up to 60 mph and the highest reading around 4 a.m. at 68, according to meteorologist Eric Drewitz. Wasilla saw more intermittent gusts between 35 and 45 mph.
A blizzard warning remained effect until 8 p.m. Friday in the Matanuska Valley, with forecasted gusts as high as 75 mph. Anchorage was expected to see gusts as high as 55 mph Friday. Winds should start noticeably subsiding in Anchorage by late afternoon and evening, then later in the Matanuska Valley, Drewitz said.
Blizzards don’t necessarily involve new snow: this warning describes a ground blizzard from high winds blowing snow that’s already fallen, leaving piles along roadsides after three major storms blanketed Anchorage and Mat-Su.
Snow drifts were already problematic enough in Mat-Su that school officials enacted a 1-hour delay Thursday morning to allow crews to clear drifts blocking roads and school grounds and a greenhouse at the Wasilla Lowe’s store collapsed. No one was injured.
The state of Alaska said all executive branch offices in Mat-Su will be closed “due to inclement weather conditions.”