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Anchorage, Alaska breaks seasonal snowfall record

Eric Christopher Adams
Eric Adams photo

An epic winter in Anchorage, became an historic one Saturday afternoon. With several inches of new snowfall, according to the National Weather Service, the city officially broke the all-time record of 132.6 inches of snow. That record snowfall came in the winter of 1954-55, before Alaska was even a state.

As of 4 p.m., 133.6 inches of snow had fallen on Anchorage during the winter of 2011-12. Snow continued to fall into the evening.

And while some celebrated, others lamented the unending snow. Some places in the South Anchorage Hillside neighborhood, which has a significantly higher elevation than the city proper, have recorded upwards of 200 inches of snow this winter.

All that snow has caused thousands of dollars in home and commercial property damage. It became fodder for the city's mayoral election. It prompted fights and lawsuits between neighbors over snowberms. It left city "snow dumps" bulging beyond capacity while running up millions of dollars of street-clearing and other fees for city government.

Auto-repair shops and snow-removal contractors have made a small fortune. One entrepreneur who in late winter decided to go into business clearing snow from roofs told Alaska Dispatch that he'd had trouble finding a single shovel left at any of Anchorage's big box, home improvement stores.

And yet it keeps falling. 

When might it stop? Who knows. Longtime Alaskans might remember that last record-breaking winter, in 1955, when 18 inches of snow fell on Anchorage in April. In 2008, more than 2 feet of snow fell in April, with a major snow storm starting April 25 producing 15-22 inches across town.

"As a rule of thumb, warm air -- when the temperature near the ground is in the 20s to lower 30s -- is more conducive to snowfall than chillier temperatures," John Papineau, a climatologist at the Anchorage National Weather Service office, reported in an Alaska Dispatch article earlier this week.

A meteorologist with Accuweather, a company providing weather data for news and TV stations across the country, recently warned that those sorts of temperatures would likely be the norm for Alaska this spring.

April and May look to be chilly, wet months for Anchorage and much of Alaska, said Jack Boston of Accuweather. A weather phenomenon known as Arctic Oscillation has, in layman's terms, left a stubborn "dome" of cold air stuck over the 49th state that's blocking warm air from the Pacific Ocean from moving through.

In other words, Anchorage might not just break the all-time snow record. With potential for another three or four weeks of damp weather hovering near freezing temperatures, this winter could be a once-in-a-lifetime snow season.

Contact Eric Christopher Adams at eric(at)alaskadispatch.com