The Valdez Star - Serving Prince William Sound and Copper River Basin

By Lee Revis
Editor, Valdez Star 

Big wet snows and rain that brought avalanche and brought heat wave

Lower 48 gets cold snap and lots of snow where it usually does not belong

 

December 13, 2017



Fresh produce and dairy were scarce - but Valdez survived last week's avalanche largely unscathed.

Alaska Dept. of Transportation (ADOT) announced that it re-opened the Richardson Highway for travel at about 5:30 p.m. last Thursday after a massive avalanche near mile 39 early Wednesday morning stopped all road traffic. Ongoing sever weather - including heavy rain and snow - hampered efforts to clear the avalanche from the roadway.

According to the National Weather Service, 76 inches of snow fell over five days on Thompson Pass, with 46 inches recorded in the 48 hours between Tuesday and Thursday.

Valdez police used the Nixle system and Facebook to alert travelers shortly after the avalanche was reported.

"The avalanche occurred this morning at approximately 3:30 a.m., and is an estimated 20 feet deep and 200 feet long," ADOT said in a press release issued by spokeswoman Meadow Bailey.

Road traffic to Valdez backed up in Glennallen along the Glenn Highway Wednesday, when Alaska State Troopers told the drivers of the truck that hauls mail to Valdez - and the bundle haul carrier that delivers the Valdez Star - that it would be at least 24 hours before the Richardson Highway opened for traffic through Thompson Pass.

According to Sarah Carter of the Alaska Avalanche Center, 31.5 inches of snow with - 11.21 inches of snow and rain water equivalent - fell in the Valdez area last week.

That brought the season's snow total as of December 10, up to 52.5 inches.

The numbers are comparable to last year, when the center reported a season total of 54 inches of snow for the same week in 2016. However, last year the snow load weighed only 10 pounds per square foot. As of Monday, a square foot of snow in Valdez weighed an oppressive 47 pounds.

The lowest temperature recorded in Valdez last week was 28F on December 4. The highest temperature was recorded Sunday, 41F.

Warm temperatures were all over the state last week, with Juneau reporting a balmy 54 degrees last Friday.

"Records kept by the Weather Service since 1936 say three of the 10 warmest December days in Juneau's history have come in the past week," the Associated Press reported Monday. "It was warmer Friday in Juneau than it was in Houston, Jacksonville, Florida or Monterrey, Mexico."

Northwest Florida, Louisiana and Georgia all reported snow last week, leaving thousands of people without power.

In Valdez, a number of small power outages caused a nuisance rather than a public emergency.

"Severe weather struck the Copper Basin District during the week of December 4, resulting in multiple power outages beginning in the early hours Wednesday morning, December 6, and lasting through roughly 7:30 a.m., Saturday, December 9," CVEA spokeswoman Sharon Crisp said in a press release Monday. "Wet, heavy snow, coming down in large quantities, was to blame for all but one related outage. Heavy snow settled on tree branches, weighted them down and forced them into CVEA power lines. In other cases, weight caused entire trees to bend or break and fall into the lines, breaking them and leaving power lines on the ground, or causing damage to cross arms and other equipment."

Valdez Star photo

Highway travel in and out of Valdez was halted for over 36 hours last week as rain and snow hampered efforts to clear a massive avalanche on the Richardson Highway.

Crisp said outages affected "almost every area of the vast district spanning from Pump Station 12, out to Kenny Lake, up the Tok Cutoff, and over to Caribou Creek on the way to Anchorage."

Crisp described an all-hands-on-deck scenario that required hiring extra contractors from Anchorage to address the problems caused by trees, snow and power lines.

"The team realized there were hundreds of trees on the line that would need to be cleared before power could be restored," she said. "Six extra line crew members were dispatched from Electric Power Constructors in Anchorage to assist CVEA's three man crew with power restoration efforts. As severe weather continued and additional trees fell on the line, another six were dispatched from Hotwire Electric, also out of Anchorage, Friday."

Helicopters were dispatched to map out problem areas and direct traffic on the ground.

 

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