Thursday, December 21, 2006

Alaska newbie says Valdez snow is mind-blowing

Dec 21, 3:38 PM EST

By MARY PEMBERTON Associated Press Writer

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) -- When Alaska newbie Gordon May watched the snow pile up in Valdez this week, it blew his mind.

He thought it doesn't snow like this in College Station, Texas.

"It is really amazing to see the snow stack up on the roofs and the cars drive around with 2 1/2 feet of snow on the roof," said May, who moved to Valdez with his wife and children in July. "From what I hear, it is nothing. This is just the tip of the iceberg."

May is right. Valdez gets an average 350 inches of snow a year. That's more than 29 feet.
Valdez - where many of the homes have steep metal roofs to slide off the snow, only to have the white stuff pile up and sometimes cover the first floor windows - was having a relatively snow-free winter until the big storm moved into the southcentral Alaska region on Tuesday.

May had been warned about the snow that routinely buries the city of about 4,500 residents on Prince William Sound, 125 miles east of Anchorage.

Still, it was something to see, he said Thursday.

When the snow began falling in earnest, May could only watch in amazement and grab for the snowblower provided free of charge by the National Weather Service to help keep the driveway and walkway clear.

Over a 24-hour period, the city got 21 inches of snow, breaking the record for Dec. 19, recorded in 1985 when 12.5 inches of snow fell on Valdez.

"We absolutely buried the record," said Valdez meteorological technician Robert Brooks, who recently spent three years in Yuma, Ariz., where summer temperatures reach 115 degrees.
"I absolutely love it up here," said Brooks, who moved to Valdez in early August.

May said the snow really piled up quickly. Valdez got 10 inches of snow in 3 hours. In the next 3 hours, it got eight more. And it didn't stop there. By Thursday morning, the town had received a whopping 31.5 inches of snow.

The big snow dump did not put a damper on May's enthusiasm for his new home.

"Personally, I love snow," he said.

The Department of Transportation reopened a portion of the Richardson Highway Thursday morning near Valdez that was closed because of two avalanches, said DOT spokeswoman Shannon McCarthy. Some blasting was done in the area to bring down the remaining snow, she said.

Crews reported very hazardous driving conditions because of the heavy snow between Mile 12 and Mile 42 of the highway, McCarthy said. The problem was about 20 inches of snow on the roadway, she said.

"I think the Valdez and Thompson Pass crew have the toughest jobs," McCarthy said. "They live in a place that has some of the heaviest snowfalls in the U.S. They have to deal with heavy snow, wet snow and lots of it, and have to clear it from a mountain pass all the way down to sea level."

Over seven days in February 1953, 187 inches fell on Thompson Pass.

Valdez city manager John Hozey said a fair amount of Valdez's $1.4 million streets department budget goes to snow removal. Valdez has four full-time heavy-equipment operators, two seasonal operators and the city contracts out snow removal in outlying areas.

When the city was relocated after the 1964 earthquake, it was designed with snow in mind, Hozey said. The city is more spread out now, with subdivisions laid out with park strips down the center.

"In the summer it is a park, but in the winter it gives us a place to put the snow," Hozey said.
Hozey, who grew up in Philadelphia, said people in Valdez genuinely like snow.

"Everyone was getting a little depressed at the lack of snow so late in the season. Now, we are going to have a nice fresh coat for Christmas. I think everyone is excited about that," he said.
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Anonymous said...

Wow, Gordon is a long way from College Station, Texas. I know of a pirate who would love to live in a place where it got that much snow. But the pirates wife...not so sure. Looks fun though, for a day, maybe a week, depending on how your stoves working.

Miss ya FishTaxi!

FishTaxi said...

Hey RiverBrat! This same story (with a different twist in the title) ran in the Anchorage Daily News today. I picked it up from the AP wire yesterday. I scooped the paper!

Stove is working fine!

Miss you guys, too.