WALLS OF SNOW— DOT and city crews were busy clearing the town’s roads after a week of snow, wind and more snow.

Winter storms bring deep snow, high winds and delays to Nome

Nome got walloped by a series of winter storms that brought high winds and blowing snow over a stretch of six days. Schools were closed, workers stayed home, flights were grounded and road travel became difficult as city and state crews tried to keep up with the massive job of snow removal.
The wind picked up on Wednesday afternoon and snow started falling that evening, beginning several consecutive days of winter storm warnings and watches for the region.
Because of the dangerous weather and road conditions, Nome Public Schools canceled classes on Thursday, Friday and Monday. A Saturday school session was also postponed until Jan. 20.
Alaska Airlines and Bering Air canceled many flights, causing delays for passengers and cargo.
“The challenge has been that it’s coming down so fast,” said City Manager Glenn Steckman.
The City of Nome’s Public Works crew was putting in 10 to 12-hour-days to try to keep the municipal roads clear, Steckman said, while the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities has been in charge of clearing the state-managed roads. Several local contractors were also hired by both the city and state to help in the effort. Still, large berms of snow were piling up on the side and middle of many roads. A mountain of snow filled a large portion of the city’s parking lot, which Steckman said was the highest pile he’s seen in his five winters in Nome.
“We’re just really trying to keep the roads open without picking up and removing the snow,” Steckman said. “We have piles of snow that have to be moved before we can bring our snow blowers in to take snow off the middle of the street.”
The mild temperatures in this recent series of storms made for especially wet, heavy and hard-to-shovel snow that occasionally turned to sleet and rain. Vehicles and driveways were blocked. As Nomeites continue to dig themselves out this week, Steckman wanted to remind residents that they should not move their snow to their neighbors’ lots without permission.
“We are getting a lot of complaints about neighbors taking their snow and putting it on other people’s lots,” he said.
Steckman said that the city provides snow dumps for private operators to take their snow to.
If residents have any problems with snow removal, Steckman said they can call 907-443-8535 or email snowremoval@nomealaska.com.
The storm also disrupted trash collection as Alaska Waste canceled its service on Friday. The Nome operators of Alaska Waste posted on Facebook that they tried to resume normal service Monday morning but got stuck twice. Alaska Waste did not respond to a request for comment by press time.
Amid the storms, Nome Joint Utility System responded to a “relatively minor list of damages,” said Ken Morton, NJUS assistant manager. The utility saw just one call-out for a couple of homes that lost power after a wire feeding a transformer broke, Morton said, but they restored power in 90 minutes.
“We were most concerned about ice forming on the lines, coupled with wind from the E-W direction, which can lead to ‘dancing’ primary lines, which can damage mountings/braces at poles and lead to outages due to ‘line-slap,’” Morton said in an email on Monday evening. “Fortunately, with the warm weather we are experiencing now, the ice is shedding on its own, saving the crew the efforts of mechanically removing ice from the power lines.”
What might have felt like a continuous blizzard was actually a series of several storms. Rick Thoman, an expert in the region’s climate and weather at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, counted four different low-pressure systems that moved into the region from the south.
These systems brought warm air with them. The air temperature hit at least 34°F on Monday in Nome, close but still lower than the record high of 37°F for Jan. 15 in other years.
The period from Jan. 1 to Jan. 15 was 18 degrees Fahrenheit above normal. The first half of January was much warmer than that two-week span has been on average, ranking in the top ten warmest, Thoman said.
Nome received 1.33 inches of precipitation from Thursday through midday Monday. That precipitation is measured from the snow that falls into an automated gauge and melts. Thoman said this is the highest five-day precipitation total for January in Nome since 1960.
“That’s significant,” he said.
Thoman added that this heavy precipitation was part of a pattern that Nome and the rest of Alaska and the Arctic are becoming wetter. Warmer oceans cause more water to evaporate into the atmosphere. When storms come along, they can have more intense precipitation.
Most of that precipitation over the last week came in the form of snow. Just how much snow? That is hard to say. Drifts that can leave 8-foot piles in one corner of a yard while stripping another corner down to the hardpack. But there’s also no one in Nome actually taking any measurements of snow depth, and the process is too difficult to be done by automated systems.
“In tundra areas, of course, individual snow depths 10 feet apart can vary by a lot because of the drifting, but if you do a lot of [measurements] over a long distance and you can get a reasonable estimate of snow depth,” Thoman said. He added that such transect measurements are taken in the North Slope, but as far he knows, “nobody’s doing anything like that in the Nome area.” KNOM had been measuring snow depth outside their Nome offices, but Thoman said these measurements haven’t been recorded recently.
The relentless high winds during the storm were notable, too. Thoman said the average wind speed for the seven days leading up to Sunday was 20.6 miles per hour.
The succession of different weather systems caused the wind to shift direction several times over the week of storms.
“The winds flopped around a little bit as the weather fronts went through,” Thoman said. The east winds would be blowing ahead of the weather fronts, then flip to the southwest or west after the weather fronts. But these patterns would get rapidly swamped by the next incoming storm that turned winds back around east, Thomas explained.
The highest wind speed recorded at the Nome Airport last Thursday morning was 56 mph. The highest sustained winds that day were 37 mph. Sustained winds reached 30 mph or higher on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Monday.
“This prolonged stretch of sustained wind, we have to go back several years to find a week like this,” Thoman said. “We have to go back to December 2017 to find a week that was windier in Nome.”
Thursday saw widespread closures across town. Norton Sound Health Corporation in Nome closed for the day, though the Emergency Room remained open. The Animal House closed Thursday, too, and the AC store closed early at 7 p.m. Once some of the worst conditions subsided, business owners were faced with the daunting task of digging out paths for their employees and customers.

 

The Nome Nugget

PO Box 610
Nome, Alaska 99762
USA

Phone: (907) 443-5235
Fax: (907) 443-5112

www.nomenugget.net

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