FAIRBANKS — Fairbanks snow lovers, your prayers have been more than answered.
An ongoing winter storm brought a likely snowfall record to Fairbanks on Wednesday, with a steady accumulation of powder expected to continue through this afternoon. By the time it’s all over, the overall snowpack in the area will have been transformed from anemic to nearly average.
“We’re rapidly eating into our below-normal snowfall and making it up in a hurry,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Rick Thoman.
Five inches of snow had fallen at Fairbanks International Airport between midnight and mid-afternoon Wednesday, making it likely that the Dec. 12 record of 5.7 inches for the date would fall.
Since the first flakes began appearing Sunday, 11 inches have fallen at the airport, nearly half the overall total for the entire winter.
The average cumulative snowfall Dec. 12 is 30.3 inches. The snowpack figures to be the mid-20 inch range by the time the flakes stop falling tonight.
In response to the heavy snowfall, the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities boosted its plowing activity starting Tuesday, working around the clock and boosting driver shifts from eight to 12 hours.
DOT spokeswoman Meadow Bailey said crews are pushing it even harder than during a typical storm because of an anticipated cold snap moving in this weekend.
Temperatures could dip to minus 30 or colder by Friday night, conditions that make heavy equipment more brittle and plowing a chore.
“The snow and ice becomes like cement if you don’t remove it quickly,” Bailey said.
Bailey said the main roads in the city are being handled first, with the busiest secondary roads taking priority after that.
She warned drivers to take extra caution to watch out for plows, which tend to travel slower than traffic and should be given at least 100 feet of space. During winter storms, it’s not uncommon for plows to get rear-ended by inattentive motorists, Bailey said.
Fairbanks police also were being kept busy Wednesday, with drivers struggling on the snow-clogged roads. Officers had been out of the building on traffic calls throughout the day, according to a Fairbanks Police Department dispatcher.
Until a few days ago, Fairbanks had limped through a parched winter, with gravel still showing through on roads and a thin layer of snow providing scant protection for underground water pipes and septic systems.
That changed in a hurry this week, but Thoman said it’s not an unusual pattern for the area.
“This is so typical for Fairbanks,” he said. “A significant part of our snow typically comes in weeks like this.”
Contact staff writer Jeff Richardson at 459-7518.