ANCHORAGE, Alaska - After a month of brutal cold and clear skies that produced few flakes, Anchorage residents woke up Wednesday to a winter wonderland that had many singing "let it snow, let it snow, let it snow" and no longer just dreaming of a white Christmas.
It was the first real snowfall of the season for Alaska's biggest city, which so far has seen about half the normal amount of snow for this time of year. Last year, 11 feet of snow fell in Anchorage, breaking a nearly 60-year-old record.
"All indications are that we should have a white Christmas," National Weather Service meteorologist Andy Dixon said.
Anchorage's weather pattern had undergone a "total change" in the past day or two, he said.
A low-pressure system characterized by stormy weather set up in the eastern Bering Sea and brought moist, warm air to Anchorage, along with snow.
It also is a departure from the high-pressure system that had Anchorage residents for weeks waking up to clear, sunny skies and frigid temperatures because of the flow of air from the Arctic. Ski trails were scoured by strong winds that left bare ground with rocks exposed.
Jason Buttrick, a buyer for Alaska Mountaineering and Hiking in Anchorage, said just about everybody in his circle of friends is thrilled that there is finally enough snow cover to get out on the trails. High school ski teams no longer will have to hold races on frozen lakes. People won't have to go out on their old "rock skis," leaving their good skis at home, he said.
"It is back to the same weather pattern we had last winter, which is just fantastic," he said.
Several members of a ski class at Alaska Pacific University met for their noon session Wednesday at Kincaid Park, anxious to hit the fresh snow. The few times this season they've been able to ski, it was on thin snow at the city's Russian Jack Park, where they had to avoid rocks.
Otherwise, class has been "a lot of just running with ski poles in the gym" and mountain biking.
"This is really very nice," instructor Dylan Watts said before he and class members skied off into the park. The snowfall means that the first of the Anchorage Cup Races will be held after all on Sunday, said Diane Moxness, executive director of the Nordic Skiing Association, which has about 5,000 members and is responsible for grooming 140 kilometers of trails in the Anchorage municipality.
The change in the weather means the association will likely be able to schedule about 40 races this winter, she said.
"People all over town are happy," Moxness said.
The snow was keeping Dee Byrne busy at Tony's Enterprises, a snow plowing business in Anchorage.
"The phone is ringing off the wall," said Byrne, the office manager.
Five plows were going from one job to the next. At least a dozen people who hadn't planned ahead were waiting for a plow.
"These are the people that said 'Oh I can tough it out,' or, 'I can do it myself', or, 'I am really in denial and don't want to deal with snow yet,' and now they have to," she said.
The old-timers, known as sourdoughs, might turn out to be right after all about this winter, Byrne said.
"All the sourdoughs said this year was going to be like last year," she said. "It looks like today it is kind of catching up a little."