Snow removal crews struggled to keep up Tuesday as Anchorage tried to recover from back-to-back storms that created rough roads, closed schools and caused power outages throughout the region.
A storm Monday blanketed the city with 6 to 13 inches of fresh snow. Another storm system is expected to move into the area Wednesday. Though it’s not expected to drop significantly more snow, the new system could bring wind strong enough to cause additional power outages.
“Snow laden trees and power lines from recent storms combined with winds expected to gust to 25 mph Wednesday morning could cause tree limbs to break and bring down trees already leaning from the heavy snow load,” the National Weather Service warned Tuesday afternoon.
Monday’s snow and Tuesday’s aftermath came as Anchorage was already trying to dig out from a storm last week that dropped more than 2 1/2 feet of snow in some areas.
The initial storm created rough road conditions, and then additional accumulation delayed clearing, generating complaints about the slow pace of snow removal. Some roads still hadn’t been cleared of last week’s snow before Monday’s storm arrived. On Tuesday evening, the Anchorage School District announced that Wednesday would be another remote learning day for students, saying neighborhood road conditions are still unsafe.
Mayor Dave Bronson declared a snow emergency set to expire Friday that allowed the city to use private contractors to clear roads. The city’s goal is to achieve a full plow-out within 84 hours “of a SINGLE snow event” but more snow can push back that timeline, municipal officials said in an update Tuesday afternoon.
Drivers described varying road conditions throughout town on Tuesday afternoon, with many neighborhoods still buried. Some main roads like Dimond Boulevard were clear, while others still had deep ruts or tall berms that made driving a challenge.
Some residents reported no mail service for several days. A U.S. Postal Service spokesman said Tuesday that there are a number of unplowed or otherwise impassable roads affecting delivery.
“Like everyone up there, we are doing our best to navigate the roads and other challenging access issues,” David Rupert, a regional communications manager for the postal service, wrote in an email. “So we are encouraging customers to clear their walks, their driveways and mailboxes — especially the centralized mailboxes.”
Any mail that can’t be delivered is being held at the post office until conditions can improve and the items can be delivered safely, Rupert said.
Anchorage Assembly leadership issued a statement Tuesday afternoon about the snow emergency signed by chair Christopher Constant and vice chair Meg Zaletel expressing frustration with continued school closures, bad roads and the impact on business in the city.
“Last week, our community experienced a record-breaking, heavy and wet snowfall, followed by another round of snow days later,” the statement said. “We share our constituents’ concerns for the effectiveness of the city’s snow removal operations and ability to provide core public services, including public transit. ”
The assembly members expressed appreciation for staff “working around the clock to dig the city out of the snow” but said residents deserve better. “Our schools are closed, our roads are dangerous and our local economy is suffering,” the statement said.
The Assembly plans to discuss the mayor’s snow removal response and any additional resources needed at a special meeting Dec. 6 of the Assembly Enterprise & Utilities Oversight Committee, the statement said. They also plan to report on municipal snow removal and request a brief on the district’s procedure for calling snow days at a joint meeting with the Anchorage School Board on Dec. 8.
As municipal budget discussions get underway this month, the statement said, the assembly “will consider what is needed to bolster snow removal budgets in preparation for next year. We hope Mayor Bronson will support our efforts.”
Private contractors will help the state transportation department respond to emergency events, like these snowstorms, and clear the roads more promptly during the next few weeks, municipal officials said. Municipal crews helped clear state-maintained roads last week.
The Alaska Department of Transportation described conditions on the Seward and Glenn highways on Tuesday afternoon as fair, with some packed snow and rough, icy patches. Conditions ranged from fair to difficult on state-maintained roads in Anchorage, with the most challenging conditions reported in South Anchorage and on the Seward Highway from Midtown toward Potter Marsh, with deep, packed snow and icy, rough patches.
The transportation department said they were moving to roads in South Anchorage, including Elmore and O’Malley roads, Tuesday afternoon.
Municipal street maintenance crews cleared more than 80 trees that fell on Anchorage roadways, according to the municipal snow removal update.
Snow crews cleared arterial and collector streets Monday and began plowing residential roads Tuesday morning. The crews were prioritizing streets on “Plow Plan A” and had completed six sectors by afternoon, according to a municipal online map. Twelve other sectors were listed as “in progress”; 41 had yet to be started.
By Tuesday afternoon, crews had started work on more trails and sidewalks as well as alleys in Fairview and Mountain View. Municipal snow dumps were getting plowed and prepared for “an aggressive snow hauling schedule,” the update said.
The Anchorage Police Department received 105 reports Monday of vehicles in the ditch or otherwise disabled and responded to 23 collisions, four of which included injuries, spokeswoman Sunny Guerin said. By 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, there were three collisions with injuries and 28 disabled vehicles, she said.
Light snow was expected to start falling before midnight Tuesday and continue into the morning Wednesday, said National Weather Service meteorologist Dan Nelson. Less than an inch of snow was expected in most portions of town, with the possibility for a couple of inches on the Hillside, he said.
The Anchorage School District shifted to remote learning Monday and Tuesday because of dangerous driving conditions. The district on both days also canceled all after-school activities and community rentals.
In Mat-Su, school district officials reopened campuses Tuesday after shifting to remote learning Monday, but did not provide buses for most areas due to hazardous driving conditions. Instead, students coming to school needed to be driven or provided their own transportation, except for several schools in the Susitna Valley and the Glacier View area.
Students who missed school because they didn’t have transportation were to be excused, but only if parents called the school to request it, district officials said in their announcement. Some teachers also hosted virtual classes for students who could not make it to class.
Student absence rates varied across the district with as many as half of registered students missing class in some schools, district officials said Tuesday.
Teachers and staff who did not come to work because of snowy roads Tuesday were charged a personal day, district spokesperson Jillian Morrissey said in an email. Teacher absence rates Tuesday were lower than those for the same time last week, before the snowy weather arrived, she said.
The storm caused power outages on Monday throughout Southcentral, including some that persisted into Tuesday.
More than 1,500 homes or businesses in the Mat-Su remained without power as of Wednesday morning, according to Matanuska Electric Association. Officials at Chugach Electric Association reported about 115 members out, mostly in the O’Malley Road area.
People Mover bus and AnchorRIDES services resumed Tuesday, although access to bus stops was limited and detours and delays were expected. AnchorRIDES services were limited to essential trips only for Hillside residents.
The light snow on Wednesday morning is expected to move Anchorage closer to breaking the 1994 record for the snowiest November at 38.8 inches. So far this month, 37.9 inches of snow has been recorded, Nelson said.
The overnight snow is expected to become flurries around 6 a.m. Wednesday and taper off, Nelson said. Winds will begin to build through the morning, with gusts up to 25 mph possible through much of Anchorage, meteorologist Carson Jones said.
The weather service issued a special weather statement warning the strong winds could lead to power outages Wednesday morning in Anchorage and parts of the Mat-Su.
Light rain is possible overnight Wednesday into Thursday in Anchorage, Jones said.
The weather service also issued a coastal flood advisory for the Kuskokwim Delta and Bristol Bay coasts on Wednesday evening, as onshore winds and tides were forecast to increase water levels to 2 to 5 feet above the normal highest tide.
— Daily News reporters Tess Williams, Alex DeMarban and Amy Bushatz contributed reporting to this story.