January started off quiet on the weather front. Light freezing drizzle was reported in Anchorage on the 12th, the offshoot of a larger storm that had moved through the Bering Sea. Heavy rains on January 14 resulted in flood warnings and three landslides that blocked roads on Prince of Wales Island. These events also knocked out Internet access for most of the island. A small landslide at Sitka damaged a house. Several boats were sunk at Point Baker, as well as a larger boat off of Wrangle. A breakwater and float broke free from pilings at Gustavus.
The Steese Highway was closed at Eagle Summit January 15. The 16th saw heavy snowfall impacting the morning commute in Anchorage. Another storm resulted in freezing rain advisories for Anchorage and Fairbanks on the 17th, while high winds and drifting snow closed Eagle Summit again. Travel advisories were issued for portions of the Dalton and Elliott Highways. The warm weather and winds resulted in scattered power outages in the Fairbanks area. The severe weather continued with freezing rain hitting the roads from the Alaska Range to north of Fairbanks and blizzard conditions from there to the Brooks Range.
Freezing rain warnings were issued in Anchorage January 20 to 21. The unseasonably warm weather prompted Alyeska Ski Resort to close for a couple days and avalanche advisories were issued for areas of the Chugach National Forest. January 22 saw the Dalton Highway impassable between miles 284 and 298 due to snowdrifts and difficult driving conditions persisted on the Parks Highway. Heavy rain also struck Prince William Sound and portions of the Kenai Peninsula.
Barrow experienced its first sunrise in 68 days on January 22. Fairbanks suffered through another freezing rain episode on the 23rd. After-school activities were canceled. The Fairbanks International Airport was closed for a few hours in the afternoon and bus service was suspended. The Mat-Su Borough also closed some schools. Schools were closed January 23 in the Fairbanks area and UAF canceled classes. Schools were open in the Mat-Su Borough, but some bus service was limited on that date. The Northern Lights 300 sled dog race in Big Lake was canceled, as well as the Tustumena 200. Ambulances and fire trucks were banned from the Big Lake ice road do to standing water on the ice. Snow machining was closed in portions of Denali National Park and a number of ski races were called off.
The biggest story of the month started January 23 when several avalanches hit the Richardson Highway outside Valdez, cutting off the town from the road system. The biggest avalanche, about a dozen miles from town, is considered to be the largest avalanche ever to hit a highway. It was up to 100 feet high and 1,000- to 1,500-feet-long. The avalanche blocked the Lowe River leading into Keystone Canyon that generated a lake up to half a mile long. The event was named Damalanche. The mass of water prevented road crews from safely approaching the avalanche to begin clearing it. More than ten days later, it was still in place with the lake slowly draining through the snow and an old railroad tunnel. The threat of flooding from the lake generated evacuation notices for downstream subdivisions. One subdivision was caught between avalanches and had to have supplies airlifted. Extra flights and ferry sailings were added to provide area residents of the now isolated town a means of access.
Air quality alerts were put out for North Pole January 30, as well as for the Anchorage area due to cold, dry conditions from all the ample road sanding. In addition, a rare winter wildfire advisory was issued for the Mat-Su area. The continuing warm weather forced officials for the Yukon Quest to move the race start and end locations, as well as re-route portions of the trail.
This information consists of preliminary climatological data compiled by the Alaska Climate Research Center, Geophysical Institute, University of Alaska Fairbanks. This summary is based on the 20 first order stations in Alaska operated by the National Weather Service. Extreme events of other stations are also mentioned. It should be noted that the new climate normals for the time period of 1981-2010 are applied for the calculations of the deviations, and they can be slightly different from the old normals (1971-2000), which were in use up until end of August 2011.
Read the summary in full here.
IMAGE CAPTION/CREDIT: This radar image from the National Weather Service shows heavy rain system passing over the Fairbanks area on its way north on Jan. 23, 2014. The storm generated freezing rain in the Fairbanks area.