Forecast: A respite, after 2 days of heavy snowfall around the Interior
A storm that dumped nearly a foot of snow in some parts of the eastern Interior over the past couple of days has made for difficult driving conditions, and it’s elevated avalanche danger in the eastern Alaska Range.
After two days of steady snowfall, it looks like we’re finally in for a break.
“For Friday, we’re looking for the snow to diminish kind of through the day,” says National Weather Service meteorologist Scott Berg. He said in an interview Thursday that snow flurries are likely through today, followed by clearing skies and cooler temperatures on Saturday.
“We still have a slight chance of snow through the weekend,” he said, “but temperatures will be cooling off into the low teens to the single digits for high temperatures and around 5 below for lows.”
State Transportation Department spokesperson John Perrault says that’s good news for snowplow operators, who’ve been working practically nonstop since Wednesday.
“We’re looking forward to it tapering off and being able to have everything caught up soon,” he said Thursday.
Perrault said around Fairbanks, crews hit the so-called priority-one roads first.
Those are “the high-volume high-speed expressways,” he said. “Y’know, it’s your Steese up to Fox, the Richardson connecting North Pole to Fairbanks, it’s the Johansen, it’s the Mitchell (expressways).”
According to the department’s 511.alaska.gov website, plows and graders have kept those roads open even through the mountains, like Twelve Mile Summit on the Steese Highway, Broad Pass on the Parks Highway and Isabel Pass on the Richardson Highway. As of Thursday evening, all were listed listed as open, with fair road conditions.
But, wind has drifted snow on surrounding slopes, increasing avalanche risk.
“A lot more snow can get moved around by the wind than falls from the sky,” says avalanche expert Hank Statscewich. “So that created a dangers combination of slabs on the surface.”
Statscewich is a board member of the Alaska Avalanche Information Center, and he has extensive experience in the backcountry where, he says, a skier or snow machine can trigger slabs to release.
“If they’re on steep slopes and there’s a bed surface underneath, (if) somebody puts additional weight on that, that can cause an avalanche,” he said Thursday
Highway accessible mountain passes like Isabel are popular recreation spots, and Statscewich advises anyone heading into the backcountry on a snow machine, skis or snowshoes, to prioritize safety.
“Make sure you wear your beacon and your probe and you have your shovel,” he said, referring to devices used to summon help and locate buried skiiers, “and you have a friend who knows how to use all that equipment so they could find you in the avalanche if you did get buried.”
In 2019, an Isabelle Pass area avalanche caught two snowmachiners, who were able to dig themselves out. A 2014 slide in the same area buried two skiers; killing one and a dog that went along. The snow was so deep that a recovery team had to wait two weeks for conditions to improve enough get back into the site to recover the bodies
“You’ve got to own the gear, you’ve got to know how to use the gear, and you have to have partners who are looking out for you.”
Statscewich says you can find out more about snow conditions and backcountry practices by going online to the Alaska Avalanche Information Center’s website, at alaskasnow.org.