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Southcentral Alaska walloped by yet another powerful winter storm

  • Author: Craig Medred
  • Updated: September 27, 2016
  • Published January 9, 2012

Is this the winter of Mother Nature's discontent? Those living in Alaska have to wonder. It's like the poor old gal has gone schizophrenic. There really is no other explanation for the weather extremes witnessed in the north this year.

Heavy snows, heavy rains, bitter cold, spring-like warmth, windless days, hurricane-force blows.

Alaska has seen this all before, of course. There have been warm winters and cold winters, snowy winters and near snowless winters. It's just uncommon for so many to come in the same winter. And not once, but over and over again.

The South Anchorage Hillside, which got about a foot of snow over the weekend, was buttoning down Monday night for another big, hurricane-force blow across the Chugach Mountains that National Weather Service forecasters were saying could reach 95 mph. Four such storms ravaged the area in December. By the time they were done, the near-record snows of November had been stripped away, along with the roofs on more than a few houses.

The winds topped 100 mph. The temperatures went into the 50s. Trees toppled like dominoes. The white-cloaked Winter Wonderland of November died a stormy death. The Christmas season started looking as grim as Pine Tree, Vt., in the movie "White Christmas."

And then it started snowing and snowing and snowing and snowing. Pretty soon, many were thinking "OK! Enough already! Turn off the snowmaking machine!"

Only the snow kept falling. It fell especially hard along coastal Alaska just to the south of the state's largest city.

Alaskans there started shoveling and shoveling and shoveling. In places, they couldn't keep up. The roofs on two commercial buildings in the coastal village of Cordova collapsed beneath the weight of snow. An emergency was declared. The Alaska National Guard flew in to assist.

Getting there is not easy. There is no road to the port community. It has a jet-served airport, but the road between the airport and town was blocked for a time by an avalanche. The avalanches were coming down in many places. Skiers from the Interior city of Fairbanks bound for a competition in the port of Valdez, the terminus for the trans-Alaska pipeline, had to spend a night in a roadside lodge after a separate avalanche closed the Richardson Highway.

"It's just epic down here," Annie Hopper, the owner of the Lodge at Black Rapids told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. "Epic" was a term in vogue all over a state where the winter began with a mega-epic storm in the Bering Sea that attracted national attention and a presidential disaster declaration.

An "Arctic hurricane," as some called it, swept through a sparsely populated region while the bulk of the state's residents, in the Southcentral Alaska region around Anchorage, enjoyed a November tailor-made for skiing. And 350 miles to the north, in Fairbanks, at the other end of what Alaskans call the "Railbelt," Interior resident shivered in bitter cold and encroaching darkness during that early November storm. Lows dipped past minus-40 and at one point looked like they might never rise. The community went for nearly a week setting daily record lows in succession.

And then, as Anchorage was getting bombed with hurricane-force winds and rain in December, the cold snap finally broke in the Interior. "After a frigid November, Fairbanks basks in unusually warm weather,'' the Daily News-Miner proclaimed on Dec. 13. Within a couple weeks, the temperature was pushing 50 below zero once again. The wife of the outdoor editor of the local newspaper joined in the city's New Year's Eve run and froze her toes.

Can you say "epic?"

Through all the twists and turns Anchorage snowfall has piled up at a rate nearly double the average. Through Jan. 8, it's about 39 inches more than normal.

Here's the official Anchorage tally so far:

Month Actual Normal
October 3.4" 5.1"
November 32.4" 12.4"
December 31.1" 20.5"
January 1-8 14.4" 4.5"
TOTAL 81.3" 42.4"

As wacky as it's been, Mother Nature's got some work to do in order to shatter Anchorage's January winter records. Here are a few out there.

Snowiest: 36.1" in 1949

Coldest: -35 in 1947

Warmest: 56 in 1934

Highest Average Temperature: 32 in 1977

Lowest Average Temperature: -1 in 1947

But any idea of ending the month among the least snowy Januarys on record --or even among the top 10 -- went by the boards within the first days. The 10th least-snowy January on record delivered 3.1 inches in 1997.

Contact Craig Medred at craig(at)alaskadispatch.com. Mike Campbell and Doug O'Harra contributed to this report.

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