Winter storm warning

Most of mainland Alaska is under a winter storm warning on Dec. 29, seen in this screenshot from the National Weather Service.

Updated 8:18 p.m.: FAIRBANKS -- As a major winter storm moves into Interior Alaska, scattered power outages and accidents are being reported:

Traffic accidents

A two-vehicle collision at the intersection of Airport Road and Peger Road resulted in two people being taken to the hospital, says Fairbanks Police Officer Doug Welborn.

At about 4:45 p.m., Welborn said the crash was still under investigation. Welborn said one person was complaining of a head injury, and another person complaining of an arm injury.

 There was a second accident in which a single vehicle slid into a the median, and an police officer was on scene assisting the passengers. No injuries were reported.

"We are also taking reports of vehicles in distress at various locations in Fairbanks," Welborn said in an email. "This is common as snow mounts, shoulders disappear and motorists drive off the road into deep snow."

Welborn advised drivers to be careful driving tonight 

"We expect to have more of these tonight as conditions worsen," Welborn said. "People should only go out if they need to." 

Outages

Golden Valley Electric Association's power grid experienced intermittent outages through the early evening, according to spokeswoman Luann Berkley. She said crews were busy responding to the outages.

An outage in the area near College Road and University Avenue had nearly 1,500 meters without power, according to GVEA's online outage map. Power appeared to be restored to the area by about 7:30 p.m.

Berkley added that flickering lights are often caused when power lines are shedding built-up snow and are bouncing around. She said in some extreme cases, the lines can bounce into each other and cause outages, but said power can be quickly restored.

"We want to make sure people know that flickering lights are cause by snow shedding," she said. "That's a good thing."

She said crews are monitoring the situation and that additional personnel are on stand-by if needed.

"We're just waiting on edge to find out how significant this snowstorm is going to be," she said.


Updated 4:45 p.m.: FAIRBANKS - A major winter storm is likely to bring high winds and a foot or more of snow to Interior Alaska starting this afternoon.  Nearly all of mainland Alaska is under winter storm warnings or watches, with the exception of the region along the Beaufort Sea. According to climatologist  Brian Brettschneider, that region is expecting wind chills "only" to 50 below zero.

Here is a roundup of what local governments and businesses are doing in preparation: 

Weather Service increases forecast for snow, wind

The National Weather Service office in Fairbanks updated its storm warning this afternoon, with snowfall and wind expected to be heavier than forecast in Wednesday's alert.

Weather Service meteorologist Melissa Kreller said the storm is expected to bring 8 to 15 inches of snow as well as strong wind. She said wind is expected to pick up tonight and continue after the snow stops falling.

She said wind is expected to mostly affect the hills today but could strengthen to 30 to 55 mph and reach into the valley Friday and Saturday, posing continued risk for downed power lines.

"The winds will start to increase and we’ve already heard some reports of stronger winds in the hills,” she said. “That’s going to cause visibility to drop to one-half mile. Although the snow is going to decrease a bit on Friday, we’re going to get a little more winds, a bit stronger winds, across the area that might make it down to the valley floor.”


Updated 4:24 p.m.: Storm causes outages in Nome

The winter storm passed through Nome Wednesday night and early this morning, causing a few intermittent and sectionalized outages but no blackouts, said John Handeland, manager of Nome Joint Utilities.

"There was definitely some drifting and whiteout conditions throughout the night," Handeland said in a phone interview at about 4 p.m. "The conditions were conducive to forming ice on the lines. The heavy winds made the lines snap."

Handeland said crews worked through biting cold winds to restore all power by 5:30 a.m.

Handeland said the temperatures climbed after the storm passed and that Nome received "a few sprinkles of rain" in the morning.

"We're just thankful we didn't have anything worse," he said. "There seems to be several of these storms backed up and it could continue through Saturday, possibly. Nome's expecting high winds, blizzards, high water."


Updated 3:55 p.m.: Power lost, restored in parts of Kotzebue

Linemen went to work in near-hurricane winds Thursday morning to restore power in Kotzebue, according to power plant supervisor Claude Wilson at the Kotzebue Electric Association.

Two quadrants of the coastal hub community lost power for about an hour each during the morning. About 180 businesses and households were affected by the two outages. Power had been restored to both by about 12:30 p.m., Wilson said

Winds peaked at 71 mph in Kotzebue and appeared to be dying down by 3:30 p.m., Wilson said. At the peak of the storm, Wilson said he couldn't see across a 20-foot-wide street outside the power plant, which made it difficult for linemen to work on the electrical lines.

"It was so bad that you could barely make out the man in the bucket truck from the ground," he said.

The mechanism for power outages in Kotzebue is different than Fairbanks. On  the coastal tundra there are no trees to fall on power lines, but the high winds can cause power lines to swing together and even get tangled.

This week the problem was compounded by the warm 20-above-zero temperatures in Kotzebue because the power lines are designed to be loose at warm temperatures so they don't contract too tight and break when it gets cold, Wilson said.


Updated 3:28 p.m.: Tanana settles in for storm

In a midday email update, Curtis Sommer of the Native Village of Tanana said the Interior Alaska village is prepared for the storm.

"I understand it is a bad one coming in," he said of the storm that's expected to bring up to a foot of snow and heavy winds to the Interior starting this afternoon. "We are ready for it."

"We are always prepared, we have fresh produce, lots of food, firewood, heating fuel, water and warm gear," he said. "So far two flights have come in of the six daily airline landings here. The weather is rapidly closing in, so I don't expect anymore flights today."

Sommer warned travelers in the area to either rethink their trips or take extra measures to be prepared. He said travelers should avoid the unmaintained Manley to Tanana road because of deep snow and that overflow will be important to watch for after the storm.

"After today, travelers will have to be aware the extra weight from the snow will push down on the ice, and we will be having major water overflow on top of the ice on the rivers, lakes, sloughs and creeks, so travelers need to be aware of that danger also," he said. "Since this is a rural area, I think the only problem we will have is if there is a medical emergency and no planes are flying due to weather."

Sommer said the storm won't put a damper on the community's preparations for New Year's Eve.

"We are getting ready to have a New Year's eve potlatch at our community hall, followed by a New Years dance," he said. 

Roads

• Heavy snowfall, blowing snow, and drifting snow have made driving conditions hazardous on Interior Alaska highways.

The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities says driving is hazardous on the Elliott Highway from milepost 92 to milepost 106.

The advisory says motorists should use extreme caution through this section of highway.

The road is expected to become impassable tonight, the DOT says. No maintenance is scheduled after 5:30 p.m.

The DOT also reports difficult driving conditions this afternoon on the Parks Highway from milepost 276 to milepost 344, just outside of Fairbanks. The DOT reports heavy and blowing snow and poor visibility.

Driving conditions are also difficult at Eagle Summit on the Steese Highway and from milepost 235 to milepost 250 of the Dalton Highway, the DOT reports.

Flights 

• Sam Loud, spokeswoman for the Fairbanks International Airport, said there are no expected closures for the airport at this time. "As of right now our crews are working to keep runways open and don’t expect any closures," she said. She added that it's important that travelers keep in touch with their airline carriers to monitor potential delays and added that people should give themselves plenty of time to make it to the airport with snowy roads. 

Government

• Emergency response officials are getting a weather briefing today at 2:30 p.m. from the National Weather Service as they continue to monitor the storm, according to Baird Stiefel, emergency manager for the Fairbanks North Star Borough. 

• The city of Fairbanks will beef up its snow plowing operations beginning at 7 a.m., Friday, Mayor Jim Matherly said today. He said the city's snow removal crews are scheduled work two 12 hour shifts to keep snow removal going for 24 hours. Extra vehicles and temp workers are scheduled to work as well. City crews will also work to clear bridges, handicap ramps, and roundabouts. 

• Matherly is asking people to park off-street so that roadways are clear for snow plows.

Business

• "We saw a huge uptake in generator sales, we had two trucks from Anchorage bring more generators, and we have another scheduled to arrive tomorrow with the last generators from our distribution center, in Anchorage." said Chris Morris, general manager of Alaska Industrial Hardware in Fairbanks. Morris said generators are still in stock at the store. He said a "ton" of cordless heaters, propane heaters, and snow shovels were also brought in and that items are moving off the shelves quickly. A similar situation was reported at other Fairbanks retailers.