Alaska breaks records with earliest snowfall

Even by Alaska standards, there is a lot of snow this winter, so much snow has fallen, so far, more than 8.7 feet (2.65 meters), that roofs on commercial buildings are collapsing around Anchorage and officials are urging residents to break out their shovels to avoid a similar fate at home.

As of Tuesday morning, the three-day storm had dropped nearly 17 more inches (43 centimeters) of snowfall, pushing Alaska’s largest city past the 100-inch mark earlier than at any other time in its history.

The city is well on track to break its record of 134.5 inches.

Now, even winter-savvy Anchorage residents are getting fed up with the snow-filled streets and sidewalks, constant shoveling and six days of pandemic-era remote learning. It is already in the record books with this year’s snowfall, at eighth snowiest with a lot of time left this season.

“It’s miserable,” said Tamera Flores, an elementary school teacher shoveling her driveway on Monday, as the snow pile towered over her head. “It’s a pandemic of snow.”

Last year, 107.9 inches fell on Anchorage, making this only the second time the city has had back-to-back years of 100-plus inches of snow since the winters of 1954-55 and 1955-56.

This year, the roofs of three commercial structures collapsed under loads of heavy snow. On Tuesday, there were no injuries when a roof partially collapsed on a fourth warehouse building. The Anchorage Fire Department said in a statement the cause was under investigation but reminded residents of the importance of clearing snow off roofs. Last year, 16 buildings had roofs collapse, with one person killed at a gym.

The city last week issued guidance urging people to remove snow from their home roofs. Officials said there were snow loads of more than 30 pounds per square foot (146 kilograms per square meter).

“That is a lot of weight,” the notice said. It gave the example of a home with 1,500 square feet of roof with 30 pounds per square foot of snow, which would be supporting about 45,000 pounds, or “about eight full-size light duty pickup trucks.”

Since it is so early in the season, people should think about removing the snow, especially if there are signs of structural distress. These include a sagging roof; creaking, popping, cracking or other strange noises coming from the roof, which can indicate it’s under stress from the snow; or sticking or jammed doors and windows, a sign the snow might be deforming the structure of the house.

Signs have popped up all over town from companies advertising services to remove the snow from roofs.

Anchorage isn’t the only Alaska city beset by near-record snowfalls. So far this month, the capital city of Juneau has recorded 69.5 inches of snow. A storm could drop several inches of snow before the month ends, putting the monthly record of 75.2 inches set in 2009 at risk, said Andrew Park, a National Weather Service meteorologist.

But it was another type of storm that delayed Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy from delivering his State of the State address Monday in Juneau. Wind gusts topped out at 105 mph (169 kph) Monday at a ski resort on Douglas Island, across Gastineau Channel from Juneau. That disrupted flights, preventing department heads and guests from arriving.

Dunleavy was scheduled to give the speech a day later instead, and Park said there were no concerns over high winds Tuesday.

In Anchorage, some fun has come from a whole lot of snow.

The deluge of snowfall this year prompted one Anchorage homeowner to erect a three-tiered snowman standing over 20 feet (6 meters) tall. “Snowzilla,” as it’s named, has drawn people to snap photos.

Last week, Anchorage had below-zero Fahrenheit (minus 17.7 degrees Celsius) temperatures overnight for seven days, and it only snowed after it warmed up Sunday.

But Anchorage residents may not be able to hold on to the old adage that it’s too cold to snow.

Sunday’s snowfall was the first time since 1916 that over an inch of snow fell in Anchorage when temperatures were 2 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 16.6 degrees Celsius) or colder, said Kenna Mitchell, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service.

And a return to bitter cold is likely what’s on tap later this week. An upper-level high-pressure system could move back in, dropping temperatures back to below zero at night, possibly as low as minus 25 degrees Fahrenheit Thursday and Friday nights, said Michael Kutz, another Weather Service meteorologist.

“This winter is rough. But us Alaskans are built differently,” resident Damon Fitts said as he shoveled the driveway at his residence.

“We can handle 100 inches of snow and still make it to work on time,” he said. “We can put up with a lot.”

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