ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — A storm brought snow to Alaska's largest city early Thursday, with forecasters saying the system could leave nearly a foot-and-a-half of the white stuff in a city that's already been hard-hit this winter season.
The National Weather Service predicted a snowfall of 8-16 inches in Anchorage, with the city's upper Hillside neighborhoods predicted to get the bulk of the snow.
It began snowing shortly before midnight, and the weather service said about 1 a.m. that the snowfall had so far been intermittent. Forecasters expect the heaviest snow between 3 a.m. and noon.
The weather service counts a snow year from July to June. From July 1 through Tuesday, Anchorage has received 81.3 inches of snow. Meteorologist Shaun Baines says this makes it the snowiest period for Anchorage since records have been kept.
If this pace keeps up through the last snows in either April or May, Anchorage is on track to have the snowiest winter ever, surpassing the previous record of 132.8 inches in 1954-55, Baines said.
Cordova, a Prince William Sound community about 150 miles southeast of Anchorage, has already been buried under 172 inches of snow since Nov. 1 and is trying to dig out from recent storms.
And residents there should brace for new snow, at least 4-7 inches, in Thursday's storm, Baines said.
City officials in Cordova, a picturesque fishing community, already have learned that a regular shovel just won't cut it when you're digging out from nearly 15 feet of snow.
There were plenty of standard shovels around town. But what they needed was a larger version with a scoop that can push a cubic foot of snow or better at a time.
"That's what's missing in Alaska," city spokesman Tim Joyce said Wednesday.
"We will be shipping 72 shovels to Alaska by plane (Thursday) to help," said Genevieve Gagne, product manager at the shovel's maker, Quebec, Canada-based Garant.
The new shovels cost about $50 each, and the city is paying for them with its emergency funds.
The Yukon ergo sleigh shovels, with a 26-inch scoop, have a huge advantage over regular shovels. "Trying to lift snow all day with those is pretty backbreaking," Joyce said.
"We have the National Guard right now using the standard shovel, and they're getting pretty trashed everyday — not the shovels but the Guardsmen themselves," he said.
Temperatures warmed Wednesday, when residents awoke to standing water because of stopped-up drains. The rain also made the existing snow heavier.
The warmer temperatures — about 35 degrees midday Wednesday — brought another hazard to the Prince William Sound community of 2,200 people: avalanche danger.
There's one road leading out, and it was closed though it could be opened for emergency vehicles.
The city also is warning people not to stand under the eaves of their houses to clear snow off the roof for fear the snow will come down on them.
"There's a real high potential that if it does slide, they'd be buried," he said.
So far, four commercial buildings and two homes have been damaged from snow accumulation on roofs. A 24-unit apartment complex also had to be evacuated.