Ray Rogers cleans snow Thursday evening from his friend's Cessna 172 parked at Kenai Municipal Airport.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Just when it was starting to look like the Kenai Peninsula might ease through winter with little more than some ice and cold, nature went, well, natural, delivering a major dump of snow accompanied by high winds.
Up and down the length of the peninsula, the white stuff began accumulating and drifting in earnest late Wednesday and continued falling into Thursday.
Meanwhile, wind-whipped high tides pushed debris onto the Homer Spit Road and tore away a portion of the runway at Nanwalek, according to a state highway and airport maintenance official.
Weather forecasts at midday Thursday were predicting a total accumulation on the western peninsula from Homer to Cooper Landing of six to 12 inches with temperatures in the 20s. Southwest winds were expected to hover between 10 and 20 mph, with west winds reaching 30 to 40 mph around Kachemak Bay by afternoon. Winds were to subside by nightfall.
Snowplows already were busy clearing drifting snow from highways, roads and driveways as most residents arose Thursday. Drifting snow was predicted throughout the day.
National Weather Service forecasters were predicting an end to the snow fall by late Thursday, but winds are expected to continue blowing snow around today. Temperatures are forecast to fall to between zero and 10 decrees north of Clam Gulch and from the high teens to the mid-20s to the south. More snow is said to be likely by Sunday.
Conditions weren't any more favorable at sea, as the marine forecast of Thursday morning warned of gale force winds and heavy freezing spray through the night in Cook Inlet north of Kamishak Bay and English Bay. Even stronger winds were predicted for Kachemak Bay.
In Soldotna, city crews were trying to stay ahead of the weather.
"It's just one storm after another," said Maintenance Supervisor Doug Schoessler. "You get one picked up and another comes in."
His crews were busy clearing the main thoroughfares, while other graders also were at work on secondary streets, he reported around midday Thursday.
"Most of the streets are getting to the point of clear and drivable," he said.
Snow was heavy in Kenai, said Public Works Director Keith Kornelis.
"We were hit pretty hard and it's still snowing, light but still coming down. We've had close to 10 inches," he said at 2 p.m. Thursday.
It began snowing in Kenai about 3 a.m., he said, and road crews, assisted by sewer and water crews, had been working all day. Areas cleaned in the morning were beginning to fill with snow again by afternoon, he said. Thursday afternoon's wind was mild, but predictions were for stiffer winds by evening.
Kornelis said state crews had cleared the Kenai Spur Highway, but drivers were experiencing some difficulties on the side roads.
Gary Davis, Kenai Peninsula Borough roads director, said the biggest battle against snow accumulation for them was in Nikiski, where road crews had just completed clearing up seven to 10 inches of snow from a storm earlier in the week.
"Now we're back at it again," he said. "It's still a tussle here. It's still snowing."
Carl High, superintendent of the peninsula district for the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, said the entire peninsula system had been hit hard, with some areas reporting in excess of a foot of snow. High said conditions were somewhat worse in the eastern side of the peninsula, but road crews also were seeing a lot of snow north of Sterling and in the Brown's Lake area.
High mentioned conditions on the Homer Spit, saying at around 3:30 p.m. about an hour before high tide that the department was going to attempt to keep the roadway open.
"We're going to let people know of the conditions so they can be aware," he said.
However, there already was plenty to deal with earlier in the day.
"It's pretty ugly," Homer Public Works Director Carey Meyer said Thursday morning. "It's not snowing much anymore (about 11 a.m.), but its blowing and drifting. We get the roads plowed and it drifts right back in."
Meyer said the big story of the day was anticipating when high winds would be coupled with a high tide. The early morning high tide, which had not been accompanied by strong winds, nevertheless was enough to deposit small boulders and driftwood on the spit road.
"The tide this afternoon will be a foot higher," Meyer said, adding he understood the highway department was considering closing the road to traffic between 2 and 6 p.m.
However, by mid-afternoon, vehicles were driving the road, often getting doused with the spray from breakers hitting the "rip rap," granite rocks that protect the highway from the sea.
Meyer said Homer crews would be out all day dealing with the snow.
High of DOT said the tide and waves had wiped out about a third of the airport runway at Nanwalek.
Alaska State Troopers Lt. Chuck Bartolini said since storm began, there had been five damage accidents, one injury and two fatalities. A head-on collision on the Canyon Creek bridge near the Hope cutoff Wednesday night during icy conditions killed a Soldotna couple.
With weather conditions expected to be poor, possibly through the weekend, Bartolini urges drivers to slow down, drive defensively, be observant and watch for animals and other vehicles.
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