Freezing rain causes havoc on Anchorage roads

A sudden upswing in temperature caused traffic havoc Thursday in the Anchorage area as a storm is forecast to bring winds and higher temperatures to Southcentral Alaska.

The Anchorage School District announced that all after-school activities were canceled for Thursday, and any students not at school would receive an excused absence for the day. The district announced early Thursday that it was open for a normal school day, after district officials had judged local roads safe for travel as of 5:30 a.m.

"This morning, all but two high school bus routes were completed on schedule," ASD officials wrote. "However, as the morning progressed, road conditions worsened, particularly in Eagle River and the Hillside areas."

[Photos: Anchorage-area roads slickened by freezing rain]

Police received five reports of incidents involving school buses, including three in Eagle River and two on the Hillside; some of the buses were carrying students, but no injuries were reported.

Patrick Lovelace said his Audi sedan was stuck behind two school buses near Hillside Drive and O'Malley Road for about half an hour, after he dropped his daughter off at Bear Valley Elementary School. He was spreading gravel on the roadside to help the bus drivers get clear, so he could keep moving as well.

"Came back on Rabbit Creek and a bunch of cars were off in the ditch, and buses were trying to pass each other," Lovelace said. "I just stopped, waited for a gravel truck; gravel truck couldn't get through, had to turn around, and now we're out just trying to chain it up and get (the buses) moving."

Another driver in the area, Hemant Sisodia, said he was headed to work at First National Bank Alaska at about 7:30 a.m. when a driver ahead of him hit the brakes. When Sisodia did so as well, his truck slid and got stuck — so he called a towing company.

"So they just got here a few minutes ago, and they were trying to get me out and they got stuck too," Sisodia said. "So now we have another tow coming shortly."

Darius Manley, the AK Towing driver who got stuck, said his truck had studded tires, which didn't help him Thursday.

"I think studs just give you a false sense of security," Manley said.

Sisodia said the day's slick roads left him feeling "sad and stuck" but glad he wasn't hurt.

"I just hope, you know, there's not too many accidents out there," Sisodia said.

Shannon McCarthy, a spokeswoman with the state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, said crews worked Wednesday on measures to prevent flooding ahead of the warming temperatures.

"This morning all crews were on call for rain, for flooding," McCarthy said. "We've been sanding and salting all day."

Hillside Drive was "completely blocked with disabled vehicles" amid extremely icy conditions early in the morning. Police dispatchers said that the wrecks included both accidents and vehicles in distress, but no injuries had been reported.

Police spokeswoman Renee Oistad said at noon Thursday that Hillside Drive had been reopened but remained "very icy."

By 6 p.m., Oistad said, dispatchers had received reports of 67 vehicles in distress, 31 noninjury crashes and four crashes with minor injuries.

On the Seward Highway, state transportation officials were planning to conduct avalanche mitigation between Bird Creek and Portage, Mile 80 to Mile 100, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Drivers were told to expect delays of up to an hour during that time period, with updates posted on the state's road-conditions website.

Michael Kutz, an Anchorage-based National Weather Service meteorologist, said the temperature was likely to reach a high of 38 degrees, possibly a bit warmer in East Anchorage. The freezing rain was expected to continue until Thursday night, when it will begin transitioning to snow.

"It's becoming less likely as you get to sundown, and then we start swinging to snow showers possibly overnight," Kutz said. "In fact, that comes up again a little bit tomorrow with snow showers becoming likely."

A special weather statement issued for Anchorage, the Mat-Su and the western Kenai Peninsula also called for slippery conditions in the Mat-Su.

Snow showers Friday and into the weekend were "more likely than not," Kutz said, with a pause Friday night and an end to the snow expected Sunday evening.

Loren Holmes contributed information to this story.

Chris Klint

Chris Klint is a former ADN reporter who covered breaking news.