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Fairbanks digs out from winter storm

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Posted: Friday, December 14, 2012 1:27 pm

FAIRBANKS - Fairbanks was digging out Thursday from its biggest daily snowfall in almost two years.

The National Weather Service reported a total of 9.5 inches of snow fell at the Fairbanks International Airport on Wednesday, making it the biggest calendar-day snowfall since 11.9 inches of snow was recorded at the airport on Feb. 21, 2011.

The Fairbanks North Star Borough School District declared a rare snow day on Thursday after its bus contractor, First Student, said conditions were too bad to safely transport students, school district spokesman Bill Bailey said. The school district began notifying students and parents of the cancellation at around 6 a.m. using its automated phone system.

“At 4:30 a.m. the bus department was out doing road reconnaissance and all three people were in four-wheel drive vehicles,” Bailey said. “All three got stuck, and a couple went off the road. At that point, the bus company said it couldn’t run buses today.”

Bailey couldn’t recall the last time the school district canceled school because of too much snow.

It marked the fourth straight day of snow in Fairbanks produced by two different storms that began on Sunday. The total accumulation for the two storms was up to 15.5 inches as of midnight Wednesday, and that number was expected to climb. At least 2 or 3 inches of new snow had fallen at the airport after midnight — no official measurement was taken as of noon — and meteorologist Ed Plumb at the National Weather Service in Fairbanks said another inch or two could fall before the snow ends sometime Thursday night.

Wednesday’s snowfall buried the previous daily record of 5.7 inches for Dec. 12, set in 1972, but didn’t crack the top 20 heaviest daily snowfalls in Fairbanks, according to National Weather Service records dating back to 1904. The deepest daily snowfall ever recorded at the airport was 16 inches on Feb. 11, 1966.

The heaviest snow Wednesday and Thursday fell north of Fairbanks, and the lowest amounts were south and east of town, Plumb said. The deepest measurement reported as of 9 a.m. Thursday was 13.5 inches on Birch Hill, just a few miles north of town.

City and state snow removal crews were working overtime trying to clear roads but were having a hard time keeping up with the snow, said Meadow Bailey, public information officer for the Department of Transportation’s northern region. Roads that were cleared Wednesday night had to be cleared again Thursday morning because it snowed so hard overnight, she said.

“We’re definitely being outpaced by the snow,” Bailey said. “We’re hoping to get caught up (Thursday).”

Crews were working 12-hour shifts around the clock to get the roads cleared before an expected drop in temperature Friday, she said. Temperatures are expected to plummet to 30 below Friday night, the weather service said.

“We’re trying to get as much as possible cleared before the cold weather hits and it turns to cement,” Bailey said of the snow. “We can still plow at 15 below, but when it gets to 30 below it’s really hard on equipment. Stuff begins to break and you don’t have a big impact anymore because everything becomes so hard.”

The heavy snow also caused isolated power outages around Fairbanks Wednesday night and Thursday morning as a result of bouncing electrical lines and snow-loaded trees touching lines, Golden Valley Electric Association public relations officer Corinne Bradish said.

Approximately 1,200 members were affected by isolated outages Wednesday night and Thursday morning, she said. GVEA had three crews working through the night to restore power and had everyone back online as of 7:30 a.m. but Bradish said more outages are likely to occur throughout the day Thursday because of wind and snow, as well as when the temperature drops Friday.

In updates on its website, GVEA was warning customers that cold temperatures may cause leaning trees loaded with heavy snow to break and fall onto power lines. The electric company asked customers to report any trees that were touching power lines.

Temperatures will begin to cool off Friday morning as colder air moves into the area and the weather service is forecasting lows down to 35 below Friday night and Saturday morning, meteorologist Scott Berg said. The lows on Sunday could drop to 40 below, he said.

A low pressure system should push some warmer air into the Interior on Monday but it will be short-lived, Berg said. By Friday, the temperature will head south again with lows in the 25 to 40 below range, he said.

Contact staff writer Tim Mowry at 459-7587.

Snowfall Totals

Here are snowfall totals from Wednesday to 9 a.m. Thursday at different locations around Fairbanks.

13.5’’ — Birch Hill

11.9’’ — Ester

11.5’’ — 17 Mile Chena Hot Springs Road

11.1’’ — UAF West Ridge

10.0’’ — Eielson Air Force Base

Biggest daily snowfalls

Here are the five biggest daily — midnight to midnight —snowfalls on record at the National Weather Service in Fairbanks.

16.0’’ — Feb. 11, 1966

15.5’’ — Jan. 19, 1937

14.6’’ — Nov. 20, 1970

13.0’’ — March 6, 1921

12.9’’ — Dec. 27, 1965

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