Another big snowstorm hits Alaska

Thursday , January 12, 2012 - 4:21 PM

Alaska Snow

14-year-old Doug Hamrick shovels snow off of his family's roof Thursday, Jan.12, 2012, in Anchorage....

Mark Thiessen, Rachel D'Oro

ANCHORAGE, Alaska-- Weary Alaskans woke up to another big dump of snow on Thursday, adding to what already has been the snowiest period on record in Anchorage and causing more headaches in coastal areas struggling to dig out.

The snow started falling shortly before midnight, and meteorologists warned Anchorage residents the heaviest snowfall -- up to 16 inches -- could come later Thursday.

About 150 miles to the southeast, the Prince William Sound community of Cordova, which has already been buried under 172 inches of snow since November, could get another 7 inches Thursday, meteorologist Shaun Baines said. The picturesque fishing community has had so much snow, National Guard troops helping clear roads are running out of shovels.

"It's funny because, after the numbers of days we've had of snow, you actually get to a point where it almost becomes it's expected, that it's going to be snowing," said Teresa Benson, a Cordova resident and district manager for the National Forest Service.

In nearby Valdez, another coastal community that's seen 318 inches of snow, veterinarian Kathryn Hawkins said it's been difficult to keep up with the shoveling, and 8-foot walls of snow line either side of her driveway.

After snow fell off her roof, she can't see out either the front of back of her house.

"I look out and go, 'Oh my gosh, where can it all go?" Hawkins said.

"The scary part is, we still have three more months to go," she said.

The record snowfall is the result of two atmospheric patterns "that are conspiring to send an unending series of storms into Alaska," said Jeff Masters, a meteorologist who runs Weather Underground, a meteorology service that tracks strange and extreme weather.

For the second winter in a row, the Pacific weather phenomenon known as La Nina is affecting the weather. But instead of plentiful snow in the Lower 48, Alaska is getting slammed because of the second weather pattern.

That's called the Arctic Oscillation and it has been strong this year, changing air patterns to the south and keeping the coldest winter air locked up in the Arctic.

"Alaska is definitely getting the big dump," said Bill Patzert, a climate expert at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

In the ice-choked frozen waters of the Bering Sea, a Russian tanker loaded with 1.3 million gallons of fuel is inching toward the iced-in community of Nome, following in the path being painstakingly plowed by a Coast Guard icebreaker. Thick ice, wind and unfavorable ocean currents had the vessels making little progress, but conditions improved Wednesday and Coast Guard spokesman David Mosley says the tanker and the icebreaker are 78 miles from Nome

The city missed its final pre-winter delivery of fuel by barge when a big storm swept the region last fall. Without the delivery, Nome could run short of fuel before a barge delivery becomes possible in late spring.

The weather has put a strain on the state, which deployed the National guard to Cordova earlier this week. If it keeps up, Anchorage is on track to have the snowiest winter ever, surpassing the previous record of 132.8 inches in 1954-55, Baines said.

The weather service counts a snow year from July to June. From July 1 through Tuesday, Anchorage has received 81.3 inches of snow. Baines said that makes it the snowiest period for Anchorage since records have been kept.

Anchorage schools were open Thursday, but some school bus routes were canceled because of whiteout driving conditions.

"I think people were girding their loins for a long winter," said Anchorage police Lt. Dave Park. He hasn't seen an upsurge of crime, but "by the end of March, there might be a few frustrated people."

In Cordova, shovel-makers were making emergency shipments to help out. There are plenty of standard shovels around town, but they're lacking a version with a scoop that can push a cubic foot of snow or better at a time.

The new shovels cost about $50 each, and the city is paying for them with its emergency funds.

The Yukon ergo sleigh shovels, with a 26-inch scoop, have a huge advantage over regular shovels. "Trying to lift snow all day with those is pretty backbreaking," Joyce said.

"We have the National Guard right now using the standard shovel, and they're getting pretty trashed everyday -- not the shovels but the Guardsmen themselves," he said.

The warmer temperatures -- about 35 degrees midday Wednesday -- brought another hazard to the Prince William Sound community of 2,200 people: avalanche danger.

There's one road leading out, and it was closed though it could be opened for emergency vehicles.

The city also is warning people not to stand under the eaves of their houses to clear snow off the roof for fear the snow will come down on them.

"There's a real high potential that if it does slide, they'd be buried," he said.

So far, four commercial buildings and two homes have been damaged from snow accumulation on roofs. A 24-unit apartment complex also had to be evacuated.

The current storm system is expected to be gone by Friday, but then comes another downside: colder temperatures.

Meteorologists say high temperatures this weekend should top out from 0 to 5 degrees, with lows about 10 below.

If there's one fan of the snow in Valdez, it's 12-year-old Trevor, Kathryn Hawkins' son. More than 26-feet of snow means he can slide off the roof into the yard.

"When it first started snowing, he said, "More, more, more snow,' and I'm like, 'Will you stop it? We've had enough.' And that was before all this came. He said, 'I want to slide off the roof again,"' she said.

"And now he can, to his heart's content," she said.

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Contributing to this report were AP Science Writer Alicia Chang, and writers Mary Pemberton in Anchorage and Doug Esser in Seattle.

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