Valdez finally catches up after snow drought

Posted: Wednesday, January 08, 2003

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- Valdez had been in a snow drought for much of the winter, but with more than 8 feet of snow in nine days, the Prince William Sound community back on track to receive its average annual 30 feet of snow.

Streets once again resemble tunnels with the snow piled up on both sides.

''We look totally normal now,'' said Roger Wilson, a meteorological technician at the National Weather Service office in Valdez. ''It was amazing. We went from nothing to overwhelming overnight.''

It happened over the course of nine days and two storms. The first storm started Dec. 29 and lasted four days, dumping almost 5 feet of snow on the town. A second storm that ended Jan. 6 brought about three feet more.

''It hasn't let up since it started,'' Lynn Dickinson with the state Department of Transportation told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

The Richardson Highway was closed for much of Monday after an avalanche in Keystone Canyon about 20 miles north of Valdez covered the road late Sunday night.

Three other avalanches that were triggered during avalanche control work also had to be cleared, Dickinson said.

Heavy snow isn't unusual in Valdez, where the winter snowfall averages 330 inches a year. What was strange this year is that it took until almost the new year for it to start falling. Prior to the recent dumps of snow, Valdez only had about 18 inches of snow.

''We caught up in a week,'' said Dickinson.

Unlike much of the snow that falls in Valdez, though, the recent snow was light powder, not the heavy, wet snow that typically falls on the Prince William Sound town.

''It was 4 feet deep and you could wade right into it,'' said Wilson, with the weather service. ''The typical snowfall in Valdez is like running into a brick wall.''

Except for some overtime, city snow removal crews haven't had a problem keeping up, said George Kenney, the city's public works director. Crews cleared the streets four times on Dec. 30 alone, when more than 2.5 feet of snow fell.

''I've got one of the best crews in the world,'' said Kenney, who has 12 workers devoted to snow removal. ''We're used to snowfalls of up to 3 or 4 feet at a time.''

Because of the recent dumps of snow, Valdez is back on pace to match its average annual snowfall of 330 inches. As of Tuesday, 123 inches of snow had fallen in Valdez this season. The normal for this time of year would be about 125, Wilson said.

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