A section of the Seward Highway south of Anchorage will remain closed until at least noon today.
The state Department of Transportation closed the highway Tuesday morning between Anchorage and Girdwood after two morning avalanches.
The DOT said at 5 p.m. Tuesday that improving road conditions prompted the opening of the highway from Anchorage to Bird, but the road would remain closed from Bird to Girdwood.
“The weather conditions just continued to be horrible — white out and drifting blowing snow — and the last report was that you had near zero visibility,” said DOT spokesman Rick Feller. “What that told us is that in order to bring the public back onto the road we had to have a certain margin of safety and safety is foremost.”
The weather made for more than just tricky driving conditions, Feller said.
“We are kind of battling two things,” he said. “We are battling the storm system that is coming through and the storm system is exacerbating the avalanche risk and so that makes it kind of a dual-headed monster for us.”
Avalanche mitigation efforts resulted in a large slide on the highway just north of Bird and earlier Tuesday avalanches occurred in the McHugh Creek area.
“There were two sets, there were the original couple of minor avalanches that happened naturally last night, and then this morning as we were doing further assessment and control work we successfully triggered the larger avalanche,” Feller said.
Alaska State Troopers spokeswoman Megan Peters said troopers had received seven vehicle in distress calls — likely cars off the road — and two reports of multiple vehicle collisions across the Peninsula as of Tuesday afternoon.
The National Weather Service issued a blizzard warning Tuesday morning that since ended along Kachemak Bay calling for three to seven inches of snow and wind gusts from 25 to 40 miles per hour.
Feller confirmed the roads were open and clear thanks to a large clean up effort. He said residents had reported snowdrifts up to seven feet tall in the Homer area. DOT was forced to borrow heavy snow blowing equipment the Federal Aviation Administration uses at the Homer Airport to clear some of the drifts as even the largest of DOT’s equipment was not meant to handle such accumulations, Feller said.
“The high winds and heavy winter storm conditions seem to be pretty pervasive from Kodiak up here to Anchorage and I understand the valley is getting some of it now,” he said.
Homer Electric Association spokesman Joe Gallagher said there were scattered power outages to a total of less than 200 homes in four southern Peninsula areas all caused by the weather — heavy snow and gusts of wind. All power had been restored to customers as of late Tuesday afternoon.
Danyale McCall, a bartender at the Anchor River Inn lounge, said the snow wasn’t anything locals couldn’t handle.
“In my driveway when I got up this morning was about knee-high but the roads have been grated and sanded and people are out cruising around as usual,” she said. “But, I hear that we are supposed to get another good downfall this evening.”
Rick MacBean, a desk clerk at the Driftwood Inn in Homer said the weather had all but cleared up as of 5 p.m. Tuesday. Residents, however, were still digging out.
“We’re up and running and everything is doing OK,” he said. “I think the wind was really strong last night and today, like consistently around 25 miles per hour. I think our big gust was maybe 45 (miles per hour). I was checking the weather because I couldn’t get out and come to work until 3 p.m. today.
“But yeah, not a huge disaster, just a lot of work for everybody. No more typical than what Alaska is willing to do.”