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Just days after early-season snowfall buried Anchorage and much of Southcentral Alaska, a fresh storm prompted closures, triggered power outages and choked already compromised roads.
Schools in Anchorage and Mat-Su shifted to remote learning Monday as downed power lines left more than 10,000 households and businesses without power at one point. Many government offices announced closures. Drivers reported slow going, with icy ruts beneath the fresh cover — one called Fireweed Lane a “slippery, rutted, lumpy mess” Monday afternoon — and multiple trees down, some in major roadways.
By Monday evening, the Anchorage School District announced that Tuesday would be another remote learning day for students, citing the challenging road conditions.
The Anchorage Police Department reported 51 vehicles in distress as well as nine collisions, one of them involving injuries, between midnight and mid-afternoon Monday.
The new snowfall follows last week’s storm totals of more than 2 ½ feet in places, an early-season dump that’s left crews with lingering difficulties plowing roads and streets. The back-to-back storms have put the city on track for the snowiest November on record.
The snow stopped before noon, when the National Weather Service reported nearly 9 inches of new snow at the agency’s Sand Lake offices in West Anchorage.
The November snowfall record in Anchorage, at least since 1953 when record-keeping began, is 38.8 inches which fell in 1994, according to meteorologist Brandon Lawson. As of mid-day Monday, the city’s November snow total stood at 38.1 inches, he said.
“As of right now, we’re on track to surpass the all-time snow record,” Lawson said Monday, just before the snow stopped falling. “I don’t know if we’ll get to 38.8 today but we’ve still got a lot of November left.”
By early Monday afternoon, the status of Anchorage roads ran the gamut, with some major thoroughfares scraped to blacktop across all four lanes and others more like mashed potatoes — unplowed and sloppy.
Busy Midtown roads like C Street and Tudor Road were messy, particularly at intersections, with even heavy-duty trucks spinning their wheels to dislodge from the chop. Berms impeded some driveways and side streets off freshly plowed roads. A BMW appeared high-centered off Northern Lights Boulevard.
Pedestrians and cyclists struggled to find safe places to travel, moving slowly along road shoulders with cars and trucks inching along behind them or swerving around. Tall berms formed by snow clearing forced some pedestrians to scramble up and down chest-high heaps at crosswalks.
The Anchorage School District announced Sunday evening that schools would again shift to remote learning because of the forecast and expected hazardous driving conditions. The district announced Monday morning that after-school activities and community rentals are also canceled.
Mayor Dave Bronson closed municipal offices for the day. People Mover also suspended bus service, and limited AnchorRides service to essential trips only. All state offices in Anchorage and Mat-Su were also closed.
The municipality’s Solid Waste Services department canceled curbside pickup by mid-morning Monday; Wasilla-based Denali Refuse made the same decision describing unplowed side roads and many areas without power.
Fewer than 100 Chugach Electric Association members remained without power Tuesday morning. Nearly 1,500 homes and businesses were without power in Mat-Su, a number that rose again Tuesday morning due to a large feeder outage impacting about 1,200 members in the Fairview Loop Road area, according to Matanuska Electric Association.
The Anchorage Health Department said all appointments set for Monday would be rescheduled.
In Wasilla, residents were under a conserve water alert issued Sunday for about 18,000 users at homes and businesses dealing with low water pressure due to a mechanical failure in the city’s primary well system.
The issue, still under investigation Monday, was likely related to damage caused by a major windstorm in January 2022, said Erich Schaal, Wasilla’s public works director. But any power outages Monday were expected to worsen the problem because back-up wells temporarily in use during repairs would need to rely on generators, Schaal said.
State and municipal plow crews on Monday resumed clearing high priority routes with the latest round of snow.
The state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities prioritizes clearing the Seward and Glenn Highways as well as Minnesota Boulevard within the Anchorage Bowl before shifting assets to plow many of the city’s busiest roadways.
The storm covered all of the state transportation department’s maintenance districts in Southcentral with heavy snow, as well as intermittent rain and wind in spots, the agency said in an update Monday. That made it difficult to move equipment from one station to another, officials said, and the type of snow that fell also complicated removal.
“The snow had a high moisture content and temperatures were right at 32, making it an ideal situation to set up quickly,” the agency said in an update on social media. “Once snow sets up and forms ruts from traffic flow, it requires grader work. Grader work is highly effective but slower than high-speed plows.”
The agency was partnering with municipal snow removal crews on areas that require graders, transportation officials said.
Anchorage declared a “snow emergency” last week, a step that allowed the city to work with private contractors to help public snow removal crews clear major roads.
Another storm is expected to swing through Southcentral by Wednesday, according to meteorologist Lawson. That system could bring light snow but it’s not clear yet just how much accumulation could result, he said. That depends on the direction and strength of winds at higher altitudes; stronger winds could result in less precipitation.
Why is Anchorage and Southcentral Alaska experiencing so much snow this early in the season?
“I don’t have any right answer to give you for that,” Lawson said.
The region has experienced wetter, snowier weather in the past two or three years, he said, though this season marks a transition from a La Niña weather event commonly associated with cooler temperatures to an El Nino event that usually makes for a warmer Alaska.
That means there are two separate climate patterns with the same end result, Lawson said: “A lot of snow.”
— Daily News reporter Amy Bushatz contributed reporting to this story.