Heavy rain lifts creeks over Interior roads

Posted: Tuesday, July 29, 2003

FAIRBANKS (AP) Fairbanks is on its way to the rainiest July ever.

As of Monday morning, Fairbanks had received 5.29 inches of rain in July, just one-tenth of an inch below the record of 5.39 inches in July 1992, said Mike Richmond, a National Weather Service forecaster in Fairbanks.

Some of the heaviest rains in more than 35 years soaked Fairbanks and other Interior locations Sunday, pushing the area toward the record. While Monday was partly sunny, more rain was expected Tuesday and Wednesday.

Flooding closed the Elliott Highway and drivers were warned about possible dangerous road conditions on the Parks Highway.

At Fairbanks International Airport, 3.46 inches of rain fell between about 4 a.m. Saturday and early Monday. About 3 inches fell on the city over the same period, said Ted Fathauer, lead forecaster for the National Weather Service in Fairbanks.

''It seems to be focused like a rifle shot into the Chatanika basin and to a lesser extent, but still an important extent, into the Chena basin,'' Fathauer said.

The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities closed the Elliott Highway on Sunday afternoon at Mile 56 south of the Tolovana River Bridge after a culvert washed out. By Monday morning, the road had been reopened to one lane of traffic.

Alaska State Troopers warned motorists to use caution and drive slowly between Miles 263 and 280 Parks Highway, citing poor road conditions caused by the heavy rainfall.

DOT spokeswoman Shannon McCarthy said Honolulu Creek at Mile 177 Parks Highway had overflowed its banks and about 4 inches of water was flowing over the road. The road was reduced to one lane.

''The northbound lane is gone, washed out,'' McCarthy said.

Near the Carlo Creek Bridge near Mile 223 Parks Highway, about 12 miles south of the Denali National Park entrance, crews were investigating the undercutting of a bridge abutment. Gravel was being brought in, McCarthy said.

Water was on Chena Hot Springs Road east of Fairbanks at two locations: Mile 37.5 and at Jenny Creek at Mile 19, where crews were also inspecting bridge abutments.

About 2 feet of water on the Chena Hot Springs Road at Mile 37.5 forced the closure of the road.

Some flooding was predicted on the Chatanika River. As of Sunday afternoon, the Chatanika River was still about 2 feet away from threatening the Upper Chatanika State Recreation Site at Mile 39 Steese Highway.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers runs the flood control project that helps keep the Chena River from overflowing and flooding Fairbanks. No water had been diverted as of Monday morning.

Project manager John Schaake said water was flowing at about 5,000 cubic feet per second and must reach about 8,830 cubic feet per second before gates on the dam are lowered and water is diverted. With all the water upstream, he said, that could happen Tuesday.

Rivers were expected to crest overnight Monday and subside slowly on Tuesday.

National Weather Service hydrologist David Streubel said the weekend storm is similar to weather that hit the Interior earlier in the month.

''Right now, it looks like a pretty good flood, for certain, for the Chatanika River. Anywhere from 3 to 5 inches of rain have fallen in that basin,'' he said.

He said the weather system is moving south and is starting to affect streams in the Alaska Range.

Troopers did not see an unusual number of accidents because of the rain as of Sunday afternoon, said Sgt. David Drvenkar.

Fathauer said the weekend storm started with wind, causing power outages.

''Now that the wind is going down, the rivers are coming up,'' he said.

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