10:50 a.m. Saturday: DOT reports the Richardson Highway has been reopened. Drivers are advised to use caution, as icy patches, blowing and drifting snow are making travel difficult. Drivers are also advised to keep an eye out for moose and caribou on the road.
FAIRBANKS-A snowstorm in the eastern Alaska Range shut down almost 80 miles of the Richardson Highway between Delta Junction and Paxson on Friday due to blowing, drifting snow that created whiteout conditions.
The Department of Transportation closed the highway from milepost 185 at the Paxson Lodge to milepost 261 at Fort Greely just after 8 a.m. Friday and the highway was closed overnight Friday. Crews were still working and planned to provide another update at 9 a.m. Saturday, according to a text message from DOT Northern Region spokeswoman Meadow Bailey.
Approximately two feet of snow had fallen in the area as of Friday and winds were blowing 35 mph with gusts to 50 mph, she said.
The 76-mile closure was prompted by whiteout conditions on a 17-mile stretch of road between Paxson and Fielding Lake at 202 Mile that made that section of road impassable, she said. Conditions were so bad Friday morning that a DOT plow truck got stuck, Bailey said.
Barricades were put up at Fort Greely and at Paxson to keep traffic from going past, Bailey said by email earlier in the day. The DOT placed message boards in Delta warning motorists the road is closed.
The road was closed at Delta and Paxson because both places could accommodate motorists halted by the closure.
"When we close a section of road we try to do it near a community that offers service and at a location where people can safely turn around," she said.
However, there wasn't anybody holed up waiting to get through at 1 p.m., said lodge employee Wiley Peterson.
"There's nobody on the road, period," he said by phone. "There's no traffic moving at all out there."
Conditions south of Paxson Lodge were bad, too, Peterson said. About a foot of snow fell overnight Thursday accompanied by high winds. It was still snowing Friday afternoon, he said.
"It's like the twilight zone here," Peterson said. "All it is is white."
Paxson Lodge was scheduled to get a load of heating fuel delivered from Delta Junction on Friday, but it didn't look like that was going to happen, Peterson said. The lodge only had about two days worth of fuel left, he said.
"We gotta get a load of fuel tomorrow or we're in trouble," he said.
Winds had tapered somewhat by Friday afternoon but were expected to continue well into Friday night, meteorologist Scott Berg with the National Weather Service in Fairbanks said.
"The strongest winds are over," Berg said at 1 p.m. "By midnight winds should drop down significantly."
Snow was expected to continue well into the evening in the eastern Alaska Range but probably not more than an inch or two, Berg said.
The weather service didn't have any official reports on snowfall accumulations along the Richardson Highway between Delta Junction and Paxson but Berg said there was a band of snow around Summit Lake that was probably dumping 1-2 inches an hour during the peak of the storm overnight.
Delta Junction had received 5 to 7 inches of snow as of early Friday afternoon, he said.
In contrast, only one-tenth of an inch of snow was recorded at Fairbanks International Airport on Thursday as a result of the same storm system, though some areas east of town reported 2-3 inches of snow.
Contact staff writer Tim Mowry at 459-7587. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMoutdoors.