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Heavy snow in Southcentral Alaska closes schools and contributes to fatal collision in Mat-Su

Jan. 29—The Anchorage School District early Monday declared a remote learning day for all schools due to heavy snowfall and hazardous road conditions, and most schools in Mat-Su are doing the same.

A 19-year-old from Talkeetna died in a collision early Monday on the Parks Highway at Willow in the middle of the storm, Alaska State Troopers said.

Most schools in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough also shifted to remote learning Monday. Schools in the Palmer area and at Glacier View were on a delayed start.

Anchorage district officials cancelled after-school activities and community rentals Monday except the Cook Inlet Hockey Regional tournament at Ben Boeke. In Mat-Su, high school after-school activities were operating but middle-school and elementary activities were cancelled except for schools in the Palmer area and Glacier View.

Joint Base Elmendorf-Richarson on Monday morning announced mission-essential reporting only due to road conditions.

Storms dumped snow across a broad swath of Southcentral Alaska on Sunday and into Monday, making for challenging driving conditions on the Richardson, Parks, Glenn and Seward highways. Anchorage and the Mat-Su were expected to receive several inches of additional snow on Monday.

Heavy snow and whiteout conditions were "major contributing factors" in a fatal Parks Highway collision involving a semi and a Nissan Titan pickup reported just before 1 a.m. Monday, troopers said. The 19-year-old was a passenger in the pickup; both drivers suffered minor injuries, they said. Responding troopers described a 2-foot snow berm in the middle of the highway at the time.

The heaviest snow hit Anchorage and Mat-Su on Sunday and was expected to wind down Monday with a few more inches in the forecast, said National Weather Service meteorologist Christopher Quesada.

The weather service measured 15 inches of snow by noon Monday near Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, 11 inches by Monday morning on the Anchorage Hillside and in Eagle River, and about 5 to 6 1/2 inches was recorded in Palmer and Wasilla.

Snow was tapering off by the afternoon, but another 1 to 2 inches of snow was possible in Anchorage throughout Monday.

The snow created difficult driving conditions throughout much of Southcentral Alaska on Monday morning.

"There could be more challenging driving conditions, especially visibility," Quesada said. "The really light, fluffy snow has made it really difficult to see the vehicle in front of you."

Forecasters said Valdez, Thompson Pass and the Copper River Basin could see to 4 feet of snow at higher elevations over several days.

More snow in Anchorage, Mat-Su

Most of Anchorage was expected to see up to 13 inches, according to updated advisories early Monday from the weather service. The forecast called for between 4 and 7 inches for the Matanuska Valley and between 5 and 10 inches for the Talkeetna area of the Susitna Valley.

Snow began in Anchorage Sunday afternoon and intensified early in the evening and overnight, according to the weather service. Bands of snow had set up on Monday morning, including between Anchorage and Eagle River, Quesada said.

Temperatures hovered around zero through the day in Anchorage on Sunday, but the cold snap will likely come back by Monday or Tuesday, with a return to subzero temperatures through the end of the week, Quesada said.

Hazardous conditions on Seward Highway

A winter weather advisory was also in effect for the Seward Highway from Girdwood to Portage, through Turnagain Pass and south to Seward, until noon on Monday.

An additional 2 to 7 inches of snow was possible in western Prince William Sound and through Turnagain Pass, according to the advisory. Driving conditions on the Seward Highway near Girdwood and Portage were described as difficult by the Alaska Department of Transportation on Monday morning due to drifting snow, reduced visibility and resuspended snow dust.

Between 8 and 20 inches of snow was expected in the area total, especially in Turnagain Pass.

Heavy snow expected in Copper River Basin to Valdez

The Copper River Basin, including the Glennallen, started seeing snowfall on Saturday afternoon. As of Sunday afternoon, the area received six or seven inches of snow, Quesada said. A report on Monday morning showed 42 inches of snow in Valdez.

The Richardson Highway closed from Mile 12 to 65 through Thompson Pass on Monday morning due to snow, blowing snow and limited visibility, the transportation department said. The closure was expected to last into late Monday.

In Northeast Prince William Sound, including Valdez and Thompson Pass, weather service forecasted additional snow accumulation of 8 to 16 inches on Monday, according to the winter storm warning.

Blowing snow and high winds up to 40 mph were likely to create blizzard conditions through Thompson Pass through 7 p.m. on Monday, Quesada said.

The area along the Richardson Highway, south of Tonsina, was expected to see up to 12 inches of additional snow accumulation, according to a winter storm warning. Edgerton highway was expected to see 6 inches more.