A steady rain that began in the late morning played havoc with area drivers Thursday, creating treacherous driving conditions on side roads and causing several accidents.
The rain settled in around 10:30 a.m. and quickly turned snow-covered parking lots and side roads into skating rinks. The rain also created an icy sheen when it struck main thoroughfares like the Sterling Highway, where one man was injured after being ejected from his vehicle in a one-vehicle rollover accident near Jean Lake.
By noon, Alaska State Troopers had responded to two injury accidents, two damage-only accidents as well as a jackknifed tractor-trailer near Mile 70 of the Sterling Highway.
"We've had multiple calls for vehicles in the ditch," said trooper 1st Sgt. Nils Monsen. "It was really treacherous to the north (of Soldotna), but to the south it wasn't quite as slick."
While no traffic accidents had been reported in Kenai by midafternoon, Soldotna police Sgt. Marvin Towell reported a handful of fender-benders and two more severe accidents without injuries on Marydale Avenue and Mackey Lake Road.
"I have to compliment the city crews here on their sanding," Towell said. "They got after it right away, and it made things much better than they were."
Soldotna Y Chevron owner Fred Hammon said his wrecker service was kept busy all day working accidents, mostly vehicles that slid into the ditch.
"We've been all over today," Hammon said. "The main roads were not so bad, but the side roads were awful. It was just glare ice out there."
Hammon said the wrecker service responds to between four and five calls on an average day, but that number was pushing 15 as the day wore on.
City crews in both Kenai and Soldotna spent the afternoon sanding side streets and intersections, while state Department of Transportation and Kenai Peninsula Borough officials kept a close eye on their respective areas.
"This thing kind of came at us from the south, and the rain began freezing when it hit the ground," DOT District Superintendent George Church said of the weather system. "It iced up an area from south Cohoe north through Kenai and east on the Sterling Highway to Mile 65 near Jean Lake."
Church said crews were laying down sand mixed with salt throughout the day on the main roads and worked to scrape and sand the more treacherous side roads.
Kenai Peninsula Borough Roads Director Gary Davis said borough road officials had been keeping an eye on earlier weather forecasts and were somewhat prepared for the rain.
"We kind of anticipated it," said Davis, who added many borough-maintained roads are gravel and currently covered with snow and ice. "Our contract sanders are familiar with the trouble spots in their areas like hills and curves. They're prepared."
With the weather forecast calling for more rain through the weekend coupled with freezing evening temperatures, road officials urge drivers to use caution, especially at night.
"You really have to watch out at night," Church said. "Watch for that sparkle on the wet road."
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