The snow is already piled so high that drivers cannot see around corners. Homeowners are getting worried their roofs can’t handle the load. And snow-removal crews are running up the overtime hours.
Even by Alaska’s prodigious, myth-making standards, this is a remarkably snowy winter on the Last Frontier.
In one of the strangest winters across America in many years, Alaska’s biggest city has gotten more snow — over 74 inches so far — than it normally receives in an entire winter (68 inches). And there are still four more months of snowy weather ahead.
Anchorage Daily News columnist Beth Bragg cried, “Uncle!”
“Winter wins. Snow wins. Now can we see the sun again?” she wrote in Friday’s column. “Twice already I’ve hired someone to shovel my roof. Both times I waited until water leaked into the house. Both times, I discovered something was amiss, not because water dripped off the ceiling, but because it seeped through the bedroom carpet.”
The robust snowfall comes after several years of wimpy, low-snow winters in proudly rugged Alaska, and so it is welcome news to some.
“I love the snow. Bring it on!” said Whitney Hitchcock, a 20-year-old University of Alaska student who likes to go ice skating at an outdoor rink downtown. “I can’t get enough.”
Record is 132.5 inches
The Anchorage snowfall record is 132.5 inches, set in the winter of 1955-56.
City snow-removal crews have had to cut channels through the streets, leaving narrower-than-usual roadways, hemmed in by walls of snow as high as cars.
Ronnie Arnett, who came to Alaska from Kentucky in 1999 because of the lure of the frontier, said she is fortunate she drives a big vehicle. Owning SUVs “should almost be a requirement in Alaska for safety reasons. It gives you the power to see over the humps,” she said.
To help open side streets, Anchorage police have begun towing cars and issuing tickets instead of just warning drivers. Police spokesman Lt. Paul Honeman said people have “become a little lulled in light snow years.”
The city’s 100 snow-removal workers will have to work 10-hour shifts six days a week for the next two months to clear the streets, said Alan Czajkowski, director of maintenance and operations. And to think, last year at this time, crews were patching potholes created by a warming trend that had water running down the streets.
Backlog of snow-removal jobs
Contractors are fielding a blizzard of calls from homeowners wanting their roofs cleared before the ice and snow cause damage and force water through the ceiling.
Brent Eaton, operations manager for Rain Proof Roofing, said the company has a three-week backlog of roof snow-removal jobs. But he said he is not worried about his own roof yet. The city code requires roofs to withstand 40 pounds a square foot, and the snowfall adds up to only half that.
Two young boys using wheelbarrow-shaped, deep-barreled shovels struggled to push about a foot of snow off the pitched roof of the one-story Russian Orthodox Museum, for fear snow and icicles would fall on passers-by in downtown Anchorage.
In a strange weather interlude attributed in part to a shift in the jet stream, the Rockies have been hit by a series of blizzards over the past few weeks, the Northeast is seeing one of the mildest, least-snowiest winters on record, and extreme cold wiped out citrus crops in central and Southern California.