Seward Highway reopens after avalanche closure

Posted: Friday, February 19, 2010

ANCHORAGE - The only highway linking Anchorage to the Kenai Peninsula reopened Thursday evening after a seven-hour avalanche closure.

The Seward Highway reopened to traffic at about 6:30 p.m., according to the Alaska Transportation Department. The avalanche between Girdwood and Portage closed the road at about 11:30 a.m.

There were no reports of injuries. Transportation Department spokesman Roger Wetherell said the 400-foot snow slide fell between mile markers 85.5 and 86 near Turnagain Pass.

At about 8 a.m. Thursday, crews were conducting avalanche control in the area where the slide later hit, Wetherell said. However, no snow came down as a result of the howitzers being shot off.

The avalanche control operation lasted around 45 minutes, and ended about two hours before the slide occurred.

"We have no way really to determine that triggered the avalanche," he said.

Motorists going south could get to Girdwood south of Anchorage at the juncture of the Seward Highway and Alyeska Highway but not beyond.

Avalanches occur when layers of soft snow are sitting on top of hard snow, said Amy Bedal, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

"Basically, when you have periods of warming up and cooling down you have layers of snow with different densities, and the top layers become separated so the two layers can slide on top of each other," Bedal said.

Last Saturday, an avalanche in the Spencer Glacier area of the Kenai Peninsula killed Jim Bowles, 57, head of ConocoPhillips Alaska. A company employee, Alan Gage, 39, part of the company's capital projects team in Anchorage, also was buried and is presumed dead. Efforts to find his body have been delayed by more warm weather accompanied by rain and wind. The men were part of a snowmobiling group.

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