Alaska Walloped by Record-Setting Snowfall

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Weary Alaskans woke up to another big dump of snow on Thursday, adding to what already has been the snowiest period on record in Anchorage and causing more headaches in coastal areas struggling to dig out.

The snow started falling shortly before midnight, and meteorologists warned Anchorage residents the heaviest snowfall — up to 16 inches — could come later Thursday.

About 150 miles to the southeast, the Prince William Sound community of Cordova, which has already been buried under 172 inches of snow since November, could get another 7 inches Thursday, meteorologist Shaun Baines said. The picturesque fishing community has had so much snow, National Guard troops helping clear roads are running out of shovels.

"It's funny because, after the numbers of days we've had of snow, you actually get to a point where it almost becomes it's expected, that it's going to be snowing," said Teresa Benson, a Cordova resident and district manager for the National Forest Service.

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In nearby Valdez, another coastal community that's seen 318 inches of snow, veterinarian Kathryn Hawkins said it's been difficult to keep up with the shoveling, and 8-foot walls of snow line either side of her driveway.

After snow fell off her roof, she can't see out either the front of back of her house.

"I look out and go, 'Oh my gosh, where can it all go?" Hawkins said.

"The scary part is, we still have three more months to go," she said.

The record snowfall is the result of two atmospheric patterns "that are conspiring to send an unending series of storms into Alaska," said Jeff Masters, a meteorologist who runs Weather Underground, a meteorology service that tracks strange and extreme weather.

For the second winter in a row, the Pacific weather phenomenon known as La Nina is affecting the weather. But instead of plentiful snow in the Lower 48, Alaska is getting slammed because of the second weather pattern.

That's called the Arctic Oscillation and it has been strong this year, changing air patterns to the south and keeping the coldest winter air locked up in the Arctic.

"Alaska is definitely getting the big dump," said Bill Patzert, a climate expert at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

In the ice-choked frozen waters of the Bering Sea, a Russian tanker loaded with 1.3 million gallons of fuel is inching toward the iced-in community of Nome, following in the path being painstakingly plowed by a Coast Guard icebreaker. Thick ice, wind and unfavorable ocean currents had the vessels making little progress, but conditions improved Wednesday and Coast Guard spokesman David Mosley says the tanker and the icebreaker are 78 miles from Nome.

The city missed its final pre-winter delivery of fuel by barge when a big storm swept the region last fall. Without the delivery, Nome could run short of fuel before a barge delivery becomes possible in late spring.

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The weather has put a strain on the state, which deployed the National guard to Cordova earlier this week. If it keeps up, Anchorage is on track to have the snowiest winter ever, surpassing the previous record of 132.8 inches in 1954-55, Baines said.

The weather service counts a snow year from July to June. From July 1 through Tuesday, Anchorage has received 81.3 inches of snow. Baines said that makes it the snowiest period for Anchorage since records have been kept.

Anchorage schools were open Thursday, but some school bus routes were canceled because of whiteout driving conditions.

"I think people were girding their loins for a long winter," said Anchorage police Lt. Dave Park. He hasn't seen an upsurge of crime, but "by the end of March, there might be a few frustrated people."

In Cordova, shovel-makers were making emergency shipments to help out. There are plenty of standard shovels around town, but they're lacking a version with a scoop that can push a cubic foot of snow or better at a time.

The new shovels cost about $50 each, and the city is paying for them with its emergency funds.