Icy roads continue to reek havoc across the state

Posted: Wednesday, November 24, 2010

ANCHORAGE - An ice storm and super-slick roads in much of Alaska made for treacherous travel conditions Tuesday, just a couple of days before the Thanksgiving holiday.

Widespread rain and unusually warm weather, with some areas socked in by fog, were expected to continue today.

The ice storm stretching from Barrow to Anchorage hit Monday, with conditions worsening throughout the day. Roads remained hazardous Tuesday, forcing the closure of schools and universities in Anchorage and Fairbanks, and most state and government offices.

Fairbanks and Anchorage officials said schools would be closed again today.

Fairbanks North Star Borough Mayor Luke Hopkins described the ice storm as "a historic weather event." Borough facilities were not expected to reopen until Saturday, weather permitting. Bus service resumes Friday.

"The best thing residents can do is to stay home and keep the roads clear for maintenance crews and emergency services personnel," he said.

The National Weather Service issued a winter storm warning for freezing rain for a large expanse of central Alaska stretching from almost the western coastline to the Canadian border. Up to an inch of ice was forecast for some areas.

The icy conditions were due to very warm and moist air over the North Pacific that pulled warm weather into Alaska's interior and was causing widespread rain.

Most Fairbanks area facilities, as well as those in Anchorage, were telling nonessential personnel to stay home.

"It is not worth taking the risk," said Meadow Bailey, a spokeswoman for the Department of Transportation, who worked from home Tuesday. "If you have to drive, make sure that you are driving very slowly."

The situation was made worse by fog. A section of the Parks Highway from Nenana to Fairbanks had drastically reduced visibility. There also was more than an inch of ice on the roadway that connects Anchorage to Fairbanks.

DOT had five sanders, six graders and four trucks scraping Fairbanks-area roads Tuesday morning. Trucks also were dumping a mixture of gravel and salt.

The strategy was to start with the main roads and then work on the feeder roads while working on bike paths at the same time, Bailey said.

David Gibbs, director of emergency operations for the Fairbanks North Star Borough, said icy roads continued to make travel hazardous, if not impossible, around Alaska's second largest city. He said road crews were out again Tuesday graveling and blading the main roads and highways, but smaller roads where there were any curves or elevation were impassable.

"I don't think the roads can get much worse," Gibbs said. "It is really coming down to getting the transportation system up and functioning again."

There were few reports of accidents in the Fairbanks area, probably because most people were staying home, and power outages were not a problem because warm temperatures prevented electric lines from becoming heavy with ice, he said.

A freezing rain advisory was in effect Tuesday from Anchorage to south of Denali National Park.

Jesse VanderZanden, manager of the Fairbanks International Airport, said he did not anticipate problems with air travel.

"We are doing everything we can to keep the airport operational, and so far so good," he said Tuesday morning.

Rain was expected to continue today.

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