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An ongoing Southcentral Alaska snowstorm has so far left snowfall totals ranging from 12 to 22 inches in Anchorage, National Weather Service meteorologist Michael Kutz said Thursday morning. The storm was initially forecast to transition overnight to rain but remained mostly snow.
There was 12.2 inches of fresh snow near Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, 18 inches in the Rabbit Creek area and 22 inches on the Hillside, Kutz said. A report from Eagle River showed 14 inches of snow.
And the snow was expected to keep coming. Another 1 to 2 inches was forecast to fall in much of Anchorage, with 2 to 4 inches possible on the east side, Kutz said. The precipitation could shift to rain or a mix of snow and rain later Thursday, bringing under a half-inch of liquid equivalent through the day, he said. A flood watch remained in effect.
Temperatures overnight were expected to drop below freezing, and Kutz warned there may be a glaze of ice throughout Anchorage by Friday morning. The high temperature Friday was expected to hover around freezing, and colder weather was expected to continue through the weekend, he said.
Whittier and Portage saw snow that shifted to rain, Kutz said. In 24 hours, Whittier had seen close to 2 inches of rain, he said.
The wintry weather prompted the Anchorage and Matanuska-Susitna Borough school districts to announce they would shift to remote learning Thursday.
The storm caused widespread power outages Thursday morning, affecting nearly 4,000 Chugach Electric members, largely in Anchorage and Girdwood, and more than 6,000 Homer Electric Association members from Nikiski to Sterling.
The Seward Highway was closed early Thursday from near Summit Lake to Moose Pass, and heavy snow was making it impassable in places from Seward to Turnagain Pass, the Alaska Department of Transportation said.
Twenty-five vehicle crashes were reported by Anchorage police Wednesday through Thursday morning, including three with injuries, police spokeswoman Renee Oistad said. Eighty vehicles were reported to be in the ditch or otherwise disabled, she said.
The heavy snowfall was a significant departure from the minor accumulation of about an inch throughout the Anchorage Bowl that the weather service was originally predicting Wednesday morning — and par for the course for this storm that’s eluding the usual meteorological models, in part due to missing data from an out-of-service radar system on the Kenai Peninsula.
The weather service took the relatively unusual step during a briefing Tuesday to describe two separate scenarios, one involving far more snow and the other rain. The agency’s prior predictions Tuesday called for “heavy precipitation” either as rain or snow.
By Wednesday morning, it looked like Anchorage might dodge the worst of either form of precipitation. But that later changed. But by noon, forecasters said, it was looking like heavier snow would start midafternoon.
Predicting weather is an uncertain science, and many factors can complicate meteorological models, but one challenge this week involved a non-functioning Doppler radar system on the Kenai Peninsula.
The Anchorage weather service office relies on a Doppler radar system that’s currently out of commission. That type of radar uses the Doppler effect to determine the location and velocity of storms and other weather systems.
The weather service announced that the system was down last week.
The Doppler radar at Kenai is “just one tool” but a useful one to monitor how weather systems are moving and changing, said meteorologist Michael Kutz, answering the phone Wednesday afternoon at the Anchorage forecast office.
The original set of models developed for the storm predicted a low-pressure system curving over the Kenai Peninsula but it “ended up taking a right turn” and ran over Prince William Sound instead, Kutz said.
“Having a more continuous flow of data that comes from the radar operating would have helped point out some of the changes,” he said.
Elsewhere, a winter weather advisory calling for 2 to 6 inches of snow was in place until noon Thursday for the Matanuska Valley, including the communities of Palmer, Wasilla, Sutton and Chickaloon. It was possible more snow could fall if the transition to rain occurred Thursday morning rather than overnight, according to the weather service.
A winter weather advisory in place for the Susitna Valley until 6 a.m. Thursday was calling for additional snow accumulation of up to 3 inches from Talkeetna south and west as well as a layer of ice along the Parks Highway from Willow to south of Talkeetna.
The Kenai Peninsula was under a winter weather advisory through 9 a.m. Thursday with up to 11 inches of additional snow accumulation expected across the region, including the cities of Kenai, Soldotna, Cooper Landing and Homer. Schools in the central and eastern Kenai Peninsula will be closed Thursday, the school district said.
Prince William Sound was getting hit with heavy snow and wind Wednesday morning, according to Kutz. Up to 11 inches of snow was possible from Turnagain Pass to Summit Lake before precipitation was expected to change to rain late Wednesday night, according to a winter weather advisory issued for the area.
The Copper River Basin was expected to see some of the heaviest impacts from the storm, with up to 16 inches of snow possible with a transition to a mix of rain and snow later Wednesday night, according to a winter storm warning. A blizzard warning for Valdez said up to 16 inches of snow was possible there, paired with wind gusts up to 45 mph.
The storm system moves into Southcentral Alaska on the tail of Anchorage’s first major snowfall of the season. The National Weather Service recorded a little over 6 inches of snow in the city by Sunday afternoon, which broke the previous Nov. 5 record of 3.8 inches set in 1964.