Wacky weather warms Alaska winter

A glacier-sized avalanche at Snow Slide Gulch in Keystone Canyon has blocked the Richardson Highway and cut off the town of Valdez from road access.
A glacier-sized avalanche at Snow Slide Gulch in Keystone Canyon has blocked the Richardson Highway and cut off the town of Valdez from road access

The wacky weather across the Continental United States this winter is really crazy. While those who live in the Midwest and East Coast dig out from the 2014 Snowcropolis, Alaskans are seeing one of the warmest January’s on record.

And as the thermometer hovers in the mid-40s across much of the state, the melting snow is causing havoc to many residents. My son-in-law said his sump pump started up as the water from the melting snow is now seeping into his crawl space in Anchorage. And a friend from Fairbanks just told me that school was cancelled because the standing water on the icy streets is causing hazardous driving conditions to the community that normally sees below-zero temps during the winter months.

But this unusually warm January has really brought headaches to the folks who live in the little coastal community of Valdez, located about 300 miles south of Anchorage.

Two massive avalanches, which have left debris about 100 feet deep on the Richardson Highway, have blocked the only road into Valdez and left about 4,000 people isolated.

The first avalanches hit on Friday. Townspeople said the snow slides sounded like jet airplanes coming in. More massive slides occurred late Saturday afternoon. The Alaska Department of Transportation has closed the road from mileposts 12 to 64.

“These are some of the largest avalanches they’ve ever seen come down on Thompson Pass,” a DOT spokesman said in an Anchorage Daily News interview.

Residents of Valdez are fearful of major flooding, too, as the avalanche on Saturday has blocked the Lowe River in Keystone Canyon and a large amount of water is backing up behind it.

Crews, who have been dropping aerial explosives on chutes in an attempt to avert more snow slides, also are facing record rainfall for this time of year. Up to three inches fell on Friday, a record for that day in January.

Authorities report that the road may be closed for a week or more, but the airport remains open and food is being barged in on ships. Ferry runs also are being increased between Whittier (about 60 miles south of Anchorage) and Valdez.

One can only wonder if this wacky weather is going to become our new winter normal or if it is just a flash in the pan that will fade with our memories and become another anecdote in Alaska’s history.

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