Should I shovel my roof? (And answers to 7 other questions on Anchorage’s snowpocalypse) 

a man shovels snow
A Ridgelake Circle resident shovels his driveway on Wednesday,. (Alaska Public Media/ Matt Faubion)

Anchorage is digging itself out from its third major snowstorm in less than two weeks. Residents are by no means new to snow, but the massive and historic amount of snowfall coating the city is making daily life harder, from delayed services and tricky road conditions, to navigating a massive amount of snow removal and questions like, when should you shovel your roof?

Here are answers to that question and 7 others about Anchorage’s snowpocalypse: 

1. Should you shovel your roof?

If you’ve got 3 feet of snow or more, it’s probably a good idea, according to home inspector David Mortensen with Discovery Home Inspection. 

Today’s building codes require roof structures to be able to withstand a weight of 40 pounds per square foot. But according to Mortensen, many older homes were built before building codes. As snow packs down or the weather fluctuates, the weight might become too much and cause a cave-in.

“So my concern would be older properties mostly,” he said. “If you have a trailer home or something built in the 1960s or 1950s then you might want to go ahead and shovel your roof.”

2. Are there other home safety concerns to be aware of?

Mortensen said it’s important to make sure any vents built into your house aren’t blocked by snow.

Plumbing vents, which allow air into a home plumbing system, can get blocked with snow and debris, and cause sinks to drain slowly. Mortensen said you might also notice a sewer gas odor, which is a good indication that your plumbing vents could be blocked.

Heating appliance vents are another type to look out for.

“A lot of times, your dryer vents are within 12 inches of the ground. So you get 3 feet of snow and now your dryer can’t vent,” Mortensen said.

With gas dryers or other heating units, Mortensen said blocked vents might cause a backdraft issue. In that case, harmful exhaust from the unit, including carbon monoxide, could flow back into the house.

Mortensaid said, at the very least, make sure there are fresh batteries in your carbon monoxide detector.

“Because that’s what’s gonna kill you in the middle of the night, is that carbon monoxide because the snow level has impacted your heating system in some way,” he said.

3. What should you do if your trash hasn’t been picked up?  

Solid Waste Services said, as of Wednesday, about 20% of customers had experienced interruptions in trash and recycling service. If your trash wasn’t picked up, you can put out extra bags (three black bags or six white bags) on your next scheduled service day, at no additional charge. 

“The snow hasn’t broken us, it just delayed us,” recycling coordinator Kelli Toth said in an email. “Our team is working hard to keep up, but the impact to our operations at the end of the day will not be catastrophic.” 

Alaska Waste has a similar strategy for making up missed routes. An alert on the company website says they will collect trash and recycling on the next scheduled service day and that extra bags can be left next to the bins.

A tall van is covered in a blanket of snow.
A van completely blanketed in snow on Monday. (Valerie Kern/Alaska Public Media)

4. What’s going on with mail delivery?

The U.S. Postal Service canceled mail delivery on Monday, Dec. 12, due to “extraordinary circumstances,” said spokesperson James Boxrud. As a result, some customers may have seen a notification on their tracking webpage that said their mail was available to pick up at the post office. But, Boxrud said Wednesday, mail carriers are working to deliver that backlog of mail this week and are mostly caught up.

Boxrud said mail trucks are fitted with chains and plastic traction mats in case they get stuck in the snow. The postal service gives mail carriers ice cleats, hand warmers and body warmers to stay safe in snowy conditions. 

Ultimately, Boxrud said, it’s up to individual carriers to decide if conditions are safe to deliver mail in an area of their route. 

5. Why does the city aim for streets to be fully plowed in 84 hours? Isn’t that a long time to wait?

Right now, the city says it’s the best it can do.

“The 84-hour timeframe has been used over the last number of administrations,” said Hans Rodvik, a spokesperson for the mayor’s office. “I’m sure everyone would love for it to be much shorter, much faster. It just comes down to staffing and resources.”

Many of the fastest roads in Anchorage — like the Glen Highway, the Seward Highway and Minnesota Drive — are maintained and plowed by the state Department of Transportation. The Municipality of Anchorage takes care of smaller arteries like Lake Otis Parkway, 36th Avenue and Spenard Road. 

Rodvik said the 84-hour clock only starts once those bigger city arteries and connector roads are taken care of. 

“Those roads are focused on first to ensure that emergency vehicles can safely travel across town and commerce can happen … and then we move into the residential,” he said.

Rodvik said the city owns 30 graders, the big yellow construction vehicle-looking plows that are used to clear snow. Since the first snowstorm last week he said 25 to 29 of the graders have been operational at a given time. The remaining graders have been in a shop for routine maintenance. 

The city has about 60 plow operators, Rodvik said, working 12 hours on, 12 hours off. He said they are still looking to hire more.

“Our crews take care of 1,500 miles of roads, 300 miles of sidewalks and 200 miles of alleyways. So, a significant amount of snow that has to be cleared and moved by roughly 60 guys,” Rodvik said.

A snowplow pushes through thick snow on a residential street.
A snowplow for the Municipality of Anchorage moves snow from a residential street in East Anchorage on Monday. (Valerie Kern/Alaska Public Media)

6. How should I park?

As much as possible, try not to park on the street, to allow plows more access in neighborhoods, said Rodvik. And when shoveling or snowblowing, he reminded that it’s illegal to push snow out into the street. Any snow that falls on private property should stay there. 

7. Is the city planning any snow removal for residential areas?

Yes. Rodvik said city crews, along with contractors, are planning to start hauling snow out of residential areas next week. 

8. How much snow did we get?

In the last 11 days the National Weather Service recorded 41.1 inches of snow at its headquarters in West Anchorage, and even higher levels elsewhere in the city. That’s close to 30 inches more snow than Anchorage sees in an average December by this point. 

Have more questions about what to do with all this snow? Email reporter Kavitha George at kgeorge@alaskapublic.org.

Kavitha George is the host of Alaska Morning News at Alaska Public Media. She also reports on business, labor and the economy. Reach her at kgeorge@alaskapublic.org.

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