Jan 27, 2014

Record Alaskan Warmth and Rains Trigger Huge Avalanche That Isolates Valdez

Valdez, AK
USA
by
Jeff Masters
,
Category 6
‪The ‬Richardson Highway, the only road into Valdez, Alaska, lies blocked by a massive avalanche in this photo taken on January 25, 2014. Photo: Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities
‪The ‬Richardson Highway, the only road into Valdez, Alaska, lies blocked by a massive avalanche in this photo taken on January 25, 2014. Photo: Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities

If you're wondering where California's missing precipitation has been going, look northwards to the south and southeast coasts of Alaska. The remarkably persistent ridge of high pressure that has blocked rain from falling in California during January has shunted all the rain-bearing low pressure systems northward, bringing exceptionally warm and wet weather to coastal Alaska. Heavy rains, snows, and warm temperatures helped trigger a‪ series of huge avalanches that began on Friday, which blocked a 52-mile long section of the ‬Richardson Highway, the only road into Valdez, Alaska (population 4,000), located about 120 miles east of Anchorage. The avalanches, called some of the largest avalanches ever observed in the region, blocked the Lowe River in Keystone Canyon, creating a large backup of water behind the snow and ice dam. The water level is slowly dropping, but a Flash Flood Watch has been posted for the region in case the avalanche dam suddenly releases. The highway is expected to be cleared no earlier than February 2, according to the city of Valdez website. Extra marine ferries will be running during the blockage to provide supplies to Valdez.

As of January 26, 13.83" of precipitation had fallen in Valdez during the month of January. This is more than 8" above average for this point in the month, and close to the all-time record for January precipitation of 15.18", set in 2001 (records go back to 1972.) With more rain on the way Monday and Tuesday, this record could easily fall. Numerous locations in Southeast Alaska have beaten their rainiest January day on record marks.