Interior Alaska residents cautioned to monitor roofs in wake of powerful storm

Roof collapse through the window of a grocery store
A photograph taken by a Delta resident through a window in the front of the IGA Food Cache a shows an avalanche of snow just left of center, behind the Duracell battery display stand. (Tim Hubscher)

National Weather Service weather experts are cautioning residents of Interior Alaska to monitor snow load on roofs after a powerful storm moved through the region, coating buildings with snow and ice. The storm began Christmas Eve and the area is expecting more snow this week.

“There was anywhere between 8 to 12 inches of snow around town with some higher amounts parts of the hills around Fairbanks, and that was through early Sunday morning, when the snow changed over to primarily rain,” National Weather Service Meteorologist Alex Young told KUAC over the weekend.

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The rain led to ice accumulation. Golden Valley Electric Association reported thousands of customers were without power. Fairbanks police said there were numerous traffic accidents.

The weekend storm deposited 9.3 inches of snow in Fairbanks. Snow began again on Tuesday, with an expected accumulation of between 6 and 12 inches, according to the National Weather Service. Surrounding areas were also expecting more snow. The Weather Service encouraged residents to consider taking measures to reduce snow load on structures.

“It is definitely for residents to start paying attention to how much snow they have on their structures. And especially this time of the winter, as we start getting more and more snow building up,” said National Weather Service Meteorologist Ed Plumb. Additional buildup will continue through Wednesday, he said.

Around the Fairbanks area, we could see another 8 to 10 inches of snow, from Fairbanks and out toward Chena Hot Springs Road,” he said Monday.

The roof of the IGA, the only grocery store in Delta Junction, collapsed on Sunday. Store owner Ed Larson posted a message on Facebook stating the store will be temporarily closed until he can deal with insurance issues and then get the roof fixed. The cave-in didn’t affect the liquor store, nor a restaurant and a Wells Fargo branch office next door.

Snowy grocery store with empty parking lot
An unusual sight: the IGA Food Cache parking lot in Delta Junction was empty after the store was closed Sunday due to a roof collapse. (Tim Ellis/KUAC)

Plumb said the Delta Junction area has gotten a lot more snow earlier this season than Fairbanks. And he said that may be why the weight of the snow that’s fallen in one area around Delta comes to about 31 pounds per square foot.

No one was hurt in the IGA cave-in nor in another that happened about eight hours later at a nearby gas station and convenience store. But that’s about all that Buffalo Center Service co-owner Eileen Herman could say about it Sunday evening.

Herman said the snow load on a roof is important information that Alaskans need to pay attention to. Especially those who live in small towns that may have to suffer days, maybe weeks of going without a grocery store.

“It’s kind of a blow to the whole community with IGA, and now us,” she said.

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Tim Ellis is a reporter at KUAC in Fairbanks.