Southcentral Alaska snowstorm causes school and highway closures, power outages

Nov. 9—Expand


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Nuna Sheldon-Cook walks along Fourth Avenue during a snowfall on November 9, 2023. (Marc Lester / ADN)

More than a foot of snow — in some areas more than 2 feet — fell across Southcentral Alaska through much of Thursday, causing chaos across the region, including school and highway closures and power outages affecting thousands of Alaskans.

While the snow had largely tapered off Thursday afternoon, there was a chance in Anchorage for light evening flurries that could include a mix of rain, said National Weather Service meteorologist Christian Landry.

Before the snowfall began to wind down, giving road-clearing crews a chance to catch up, the deep snow made driving dangerous. On the Kenai Peninsula, the Seward Highway temporarily closed for hours from the Summit Lake area to Moose Pass because it had become impassable. Alaska State Troopers and the state Department of Transportation urged drivers to stay home unless it was an emergency.

The transportation department warned that the north end of the Sterling Highway on the Kenai was hazardous and had received more than 2 feet of snow by Thursday morning. Conditions on other highways in Southcentral Alaska were described as difficult, with packed snow, an ice glaze and blowing or drifting snow. The Richardson Highway at Thompson Pass had also closed before reopening by the afternoon.

In Anchorage, police received reports of 15 crashes by Thursday afternoon, including four with injuries, police department spokeswoman Renee Oistad said. Seventy-one vehicles were reported in the ditch or disabled, she said.

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More than 12,000 homes in Anchorage, Mat-Su and on the Kenai Peninsula were without power at some point. Chugach Electric Association reported around 9 p.m. that about 2,700 members were still without power. While crews were set to work through the night to restore power to as many people as possible, some members wouldn't have power until Friday, the association said in an online update.

Heavy snow loading and unloading from the lines, as well as fallen trees, contributed to the outages, spokeswoman Julie Hasquet said.

"Often we'll get one outage restored and then another one will trigger a few blocks away or just down the road," Hasquet said. "So it's hard to give an estimate of when everything's going to be restored and for whom. ... The situation is just too dynamic. Until the weather calms down, we don't really get a chance to catch up."

Chugach Electric said a larger outage in Girdwood was expected to be resolved Thursday night while a crew worked in Cooper Landing, and the association hoped to reach Indian, Hope and Moose Pass on Friday. Some outages can be challenging and time consuming to repair because crews have to patrol the power lines by snowmachine or on snowshoes to locate the source of the problem and fix it, Hasquet said.

More than 3,700 homes or businesses were without power on the Kenai Peninsula by 9 p.m., according to the Homer Electric Association. Crews were working to restore power "as quickly and safely as possible," the association wrote in an online update, but challenging conditions have slowed progress and "members should prepare to be out of power for several more hours, perhaps through the night" into Friday.

Nearly 2,500 homes or businesses were without power in Mat-Su, largely near Wasilla, by 9 p.m., according to the Matanuska Electric Association.

The wintry weather and dangerous driving conditions prompted the Anchorage and Matanuska-Susitna Borough school districts to shift to remote learning Thursday, and 24 schools in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District were closed for the day. Friday was a scheduled day off for students in all three school districts, ahead of Veterans Day on Saturday.

Snow had begun falling Wednesday afternoon across much of Southcentral Alaska. The storm was challenging for meteorologists to predict, in part due to missing data from an out-of-service Doppler radar system on the Kenai, and initial forecasts called for precipitation to shift to rain that evening. But in many areas, it continued on as snow, leading to heavy accumulations that caused widespread disruptions Thursday.

Snow totals reported near Anchorage ranged from 17 to more than 36 inches by Thursday afternoon. There was 17 inches of snow measured near the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, 22 inches on the Hillside, 25.3 inches in Eagle River and 36.5 inches in Girdwood at that point.

Snow in Whittier and Portage shifted to rain by Thursday, National Weather Service meteorologist Michael Kutz said. In 24 hours, Whittier had received close to 2 inches of rain, he said.

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The weather service hadn't received any reports from the Kenai Peninsula, but the state transportation department noted 7 to 22 inches of snow throughout the region Thursday morning.

Temperatures were expected to drop Thursday night and trend colder through the next few days, with no precipitation forecast over the weekend.

The storm system moved 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.