Updated at 6:15 p.m.
Fairbanks broke several snow records over Easter weekend, as high levels of snow were recorded both Saturday and Sunday. The official amount measured at the National Weather Service office was 14.6 inches, according to meteorologist Alex Young. Unofficial measurements ranged from 12 to 22 inches, with the highest amounts recorded in the hills around Fairbanks. Young said that Old Murphy Dome Road saw the greatest accumulation with 22 inches.
The weekend snow event demolished daily records for the month of April and set the highest two-day total for the month. Seven inches was reported on Saturday, breaking the record of 1.4 inches that was set in 1949. On Sunday, 6.2 inches was reported, which broke the previous record of 2.9 inches set in 1949. The previous two-day record was 11.4 inches set in 1948.
“An event like this is generally pretty abnormal,” Young said. Additionally, Young said there were record levels of liquid precipitation (melted snow). He explained that smaller flakes generally equate to higher levels of liquid precipitation.
Snow depth in Fairbanks was 40 inches as of April 4. This depth is a near-record, second only to 48 inches measured in 1991.
Fairbanks set another weather record this week, this one temperature related. As of Monday, Fairbanks has experienced the 177the consecutive number of days under 40 degrees. This record breaks the previous record of 176 from the winter of 1965-1955. It will likely be broken again, as temperatures are expected to remain cool in the coming week.
Working to clear roads
Neither the city of Fairbanks Public Works nor Alaska Department of Transportation were expecting this amount of snow so late in the season. The city’s snow dumps are filling up, and DOT suffered a setback in its spring maintenance.
According to City Public Works Director Jeff Jacobson, the snow event was unprecedented. To prepare for the heavy snowfall, the Public Works day crew worked 10 hours on Friday. On Sunday, they deployed six graders to plow streets and sidewalks on emergency routes from 7 a.m. until 5:30 p.m., with three graders working overnight from 9 p.m. until 7 a.m. Monday. Jacobson explained that preemptively clearing roads makes it easier for crews, since there is only the additional snowfall to clear.
“The roads were in great shape on Friday,” he said. But nonetheless, “no matter how good they were” the amount of additional snow was overwhelming.
Public Works brought in additional workers Monday to clear neighborhoods. Yet even with the preparation, extra workers and overtime, Jacobson said the crew is scrambling and will likely be working overtime through the end of the week.
When the roads will be clear is “anyone’s guess,” Jacobson said. He explained that the snow was really heavy, so it takes longer to move. To further slow the removal process, some of the city’s eight snow dump sites are “getting close to the max,” Jacobson said. “It’s overwhelming because there’s no place to put it."
Alaska Department of Transportation Information Officer Caitlin Frye said that DOT was clearing Priority 2 and Priority 3 roads Monday. The DOT crew is working 24/7 to keep roads open, and their goal is to finish all Priority 4 roads by the end of Tuesday.
“It really is unusual,” Frye said of the late season snowfall which "was unexpected for sure." DOT had begun spring maintenance, but the snow last weekend set them back and it will take the department a while to catch up. According to Frye, the storm was also unusual in that Sunday was extremely warm — making the snow dense — but the temperature dropped on Sunday night. As a result, the snow binded to the road, making surfaces slippery. Frye said to expect difficult driving conditions for several days, as roads will likely be icy throughout the week.
Clem Clooten, a building official for the city of Fairbanks, measured 27 pounds of snow on a public works building on Peger Road on Monday morning. However, Clooten noted that some of the snow had melted and refrozen, leaving a layer of ice. The ice is not part of the measurement, so the actual load on the roof is greater. The amount of snow, and thus the load, varies by location, but Clooten said a general estimate for the area is about 30 pounds.
For context, Clooten said they measured the snow load at the beginning of March and it was 19.6 pounds, without ice. “So we’ve picked up about eight pounds,” he said.
Due to heavy snow and the time required for removal, Fairbanks North Star Borough Transportation did not operate on Monday. Other closures included borough schools, the State Executive Branch offices and the Tanana Chiefs Conference building. Chief Andrew Isaac Health Center had limited services.
In North Pole, Mayor Michael Welch made the decision to suspend all nonessential city services. North Pole closed at 8 p.m. Sunday and is set to reopen at 8 a.m. Tuesday. The Monday night City Council meeting was canceled as well. Welch said he made the decision to close to encourage people to stay home. Welch has been mayor for over two years, and this is the first time that he has had to close city offices.
“This is the worst April on record,” he said, adding that some areas got over 2 feet of snow.
Contact reporter Maisie Thomas at 459-7545.