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Alaska winter piles on more snow for weather-weary

By Rachel D'oro

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Jan. 12 2012 5:20 p.m. MST

A road sign in Anchorage's Glen Alps neighborhood is dwarfed by a wall of snow almost eight feet tall on Thursday, Jan. 12, 2012. The National Weather Service is predicting a total snowfall of 8 to 16 inches today, putting Anchorage on track to have the snowiest winter on record.

Loren Holmes, Associated Press

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — The worst winter anyone can remember in Alaska has piled snow so high people can't see out the windows, kept a tanker in ice-choked waters from delivering fuel on time and turned snow-packed roofs into sled runs.

While most of the nation has gone without much seasonal snow, the state already known for winter is buried in weather that has dumped more than twice as much snow as usual on its largest city, brought out the National Guard and put a run on snow shovels.

As a Russian tanker crawled toward the iced-in coastal community of Nome to bring in much-needed fuel, weather-weary Alaskans awoke Thursday to more of the white stuff — more than a foot was expected to fall in Anchorage — and said enough was enough.

"The scary part is, we still have three more months to go," said Kathryn Hawkins, a veterinarian who lives in the coastal community of Valdez, about 100 miles southeast of Anchorage. "I look out and go, 'Oh my gosh, where can it all go?'"

More than 26 feet of snow has fallen in Valdez since November. The 8-foot snow piles outside Hawkins' home are so high she can't see out the front or back of her house. Her 12-year-old son has been sliding off the roof into the yard.

In the nearby fishing community of Cordova, more than 172 inches of snow has fallen since November; snow began falling again after midnight Wednesday. The Alaskan National Guard was called in to help move the snow, and the city is running out of places to put it. Front-end loaders are hauling snow from dump piles to a snow-melting machine.

"That's our big issue, getting our snow dumps cleared for the next barrage of snow," Cordova spokesman Allen Marquette said.

Anchorage had 81.6 inches fall as of Wednesday — more than twice the average snowfall of 30.1 inches for the same time period. The weather service counts July 1 through the end of June as a snow season.

This year's total already broke the record 77.3 inches that fell during the same period in 1993-94. 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.

Two atmospheric patterns are behind the state's massive snowfall: the Pacific weather pattern known as La Nina, and another called the Arctic Oscillation that 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.

Many of the lower 48 states have seen an unusually mild start to the winter. A storm dumped several inches of snow on northwestern Wisconsin and western Iowa before moving eastward and to start blanketing Milwaukee, St. Louis and Chicago, which was expected to get up to 8 inches by Friday morning.

In the ice-choked frozen waters of the Bering Sea, a Russian tanker loaded with 1.3 million gallons of fuel progressed steadily toward Nome, following the path being painstakingly plowed by a Coast Guard icebreaker. Thick ice, wind and unfavorable ocean currents had initially slowed the vessel down; but as of 2 p.m. Thursday the tanker and the icebreaker were 46 miles from Nome and likely to arrive Friday, said Coast Guard spokesman David Mosley.

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 another barge arrives in late spring, forcing fuel to be flown in and raising prices as high as $9 a gallon. Gasoline was selling for Gasoline was selling for $5.43 on Thursday.

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