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Winter reappears in Anchorage while nasty storm rips Aleutians

Craig Medred
Loren Holmes photo

An optimistic National Weather Service forecast the return of winter to Alaska's largest city on Wednesday, but don't get your hopes too high,  snow-sport fans. Accumulation was expected to add only two to three inches in Anchorage Wednesday -- with maybe another inch on Thursday. After that, the sky is expected to clear with only a chance of snow, or mist or who-knows-what, in the forecast for the rest of the week.

The long-term forecast notes a complex low over the Bering Sea to the winter likely to "direct storms toward the southern mainland. The resulting southerly flow from the Pacific should lead to slightly warmer-than-average temperatures and overall an active pattern into next week,'' the agency notes.

By now, Anchorage residents are all-too familiar with "warmer-than-average temperatures.'' Unseasonable warmth, along with rain and wind, arrived along with the New Year to wash away the 49th state's Winter Wonderland and leave neighborhood streets in the city looking like ice rinks for residents of a new-found Iceandia.

Some laced up their skates to enjoy the experience. Most didn't, instead cursing the slipping and sliding, which could increase in the days ahead with a dusting of snow atop the ice.

But hey, it could always be worse. The far western part of the state was getting pounded by hurricane-force winds on Wednesday. The weather service reported a low pressure system 350 miles south of Attu was tracking north with winds up over 70 mph already pounding Shemya, a one-time U.S. Air Force base, and threatening nearby Adak.

Anticipating trouble, the U.S. Coast Guard dispatched two MH-60 Jayhawk helicopters to remote St. Paul Island in the middle of the Bering Sea on Sunday in an effort to safeguard the crab fleet and other fishing vessels in the area.

“By staging search and rescue assets on St. Paul in conjunction with increased seasonal crabbing and fishing activity nearby, we significantly decrease our response time to distress calls,” Capt. Gregory Sanial, chief of response for the Coast Guard 17th District, said in a press release. “The forward operating location has been a successful life-saving strategy time and time again.”

Deploying aircraft and crews in St. Paul eliminates a six-hour transit from Kodiak plus an hour refueling stop from the time of initial response to any distressed mariners. Winter is the busiest time of year for fishing in the Bering Sea – and it's also the period when the area endures its worst weather.

The Kodiak-based Coast Guard Cutter Munro, a high endurance cutter, will also be in the region outfitted with an MH-65 Dolphin helicopter crew from the Coast Guard's Air Station Kodiak.

Already, the weather was making it a bad time to, say, tow an oil rig from Western Alaska toward Seattle, but the storm was expected to fade into the vastness of the Pacific instead of impacting heavily on the more inhabited parts of Alaska.

Contact Craig Medred at craig(at)alaskadispatch.com