Seward Highway reopens after avalanche

Billowing snow on a roadway
Crews clear avalanche debris off the Seward Highway on Friday. (Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities)

An avalanche closed the Seward Highway for much of the day Friday between Bird Creek and the Portage turnoff, severing the only road access between Anchorage and the Kenai Peninsula for more than eight hours.

The avalanche hit at Mile 91.5 and the debris on the roadway was up to 15 feet high in spots, said Jill Reese, a spokesperson for the Department of Transportation.

The highway reopened around 2 p.m., according to the department. Reese said drivers should remain cautious.

“Travel is going to be wet and slick and bumpy,” she said. “They’ve cleared all the snow but it’s definitely not down to dry highway measures by any means.”

Crews set off artillery to trigger 20 other avalanches along the highway on Friday, she said.

Also on Friday, several snow slides closed the Old Glenn Highway near the Old Knik River Bridge, according to the transportation department. 

Farther north, snow slides near Summit Lake closed the Richardson Highway from mile 186 to 218.

Rain and snow have been falling in Anchorage and other areas of Southcentral since the beginning of the week, leading to treacherous road conditions in parts of town. Areas of the Mat-Su have been hit with heavy snow, knocking out power for thousands of homes.

As of Friday evening, about 300 homes still did not have power, according to the Matanuska Electric Association. The Mat-Su school district canceled in-person classes on Friday for the third day in a row due to road conditions and winter weather.

The Hatcher Pass Avalanche Center is also warning of very dangerous avalanche conditions in the area. It issued an avalanche warning early Friday, and it says the Hatcher Pass Road will be closed at mile 11 through the weekend due to avalanche activity.

National Weather Service meteorologist Michael Kutz said Anchorage has been having one of the wettest years on record so far. Snowfall this February is nearly three times higher than average, and rainfall this year is more than four times above normal, Kutz said. 

A snow blower crosses an intersection in front of a giant puddle in the roadway
A snow blower clears a sidewalk in Anchorage’s South Addition neighborhood. (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

The weather service says rain and snow are possible through most of Friday in Southcentral, but precipitation could taper off by Friday evening, with partly sunny skies on Saturday. 

By Sunday, clouds and precipitation could return. 

“We’re getting a little bit of a break here for the weekend,” said Kutz. “But then Sunday, increasing cloudiness, with the chances of snow increasing after that.”

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Lex Treinen covers culture, homelessness, politics and corrections for Alaska Public Media. Reach him at ltreinen@alaskapublic.org.