Palmer digs out from major windstorm that prompted emergency declaration

Palmer snow

Palmer was still recovering Tuesday from a major holiday windstorm that prompted local officials to declare an emergency due to drifts that blocked major streets.

A prolonged ground blizzard hammered the Matanuska Valley from Friday into Monday as high winds covered roadways after three major storms blanketed Anchorage and Mat-Su. The storm rendered many driveways and roads initially impassable and left some without power for days.

Even as the winds subsided, some roads in Palmer were still down to one lane on Tuesday as city maintenance crews continued to dig out from the storm.

“Instead of moving snow, it’s almost like we’re chiseling up concrete and loading that up,” Palmer City Manager John Moosey said Tuesday.

While parts of Anchorage and much of the Matanuska Valley experienced exceptionally strong winds, the highest gusts were reported in Palmer, including an 82 mph blast Friday at the airport. Gusts in the 70s were reported in Wasilla, and Anchorage saw gusts up to 68 mph Friday.

Nearly 20,000 Matanuska Electric Association members lost power Friday morning. On Point MacKenzie west of Wasilla, crews faced snow drifts so large that they needed snowmachines and snowshoes to reach areas where repairs were needed, MEA posted on its Facebook page. Crews worked around the clock to restore power, but some homes, including those in the Point MacKenzie area, went without electricity until Monday night. All customers had power restored by 1:30 am Tuesday.

In Palmer, much of the city experienced power outages on Friday. Moosey said his own home his lost power for six hours before it was restored and then again went out for another several hours.

The wind storm did not cause damage to public buildings and no airplanes were flipped during the storm, Moosey said. The courthouse closed Friday due to weather and remained closed Tuesday.

Palmer declared a local disaster late Friday, he said, and asked for help from the borough and state.

The city is now contending with massive drifts of snow that have proven challenging to clear. Crews normally use a grader to push snow off roads, then go back and haul it from the area, but Moosey said there’s too much snow to use that technique. Crews are using blowers and hauling snow from the area before they go in with graders to clear out the roads.

Cars parked on the road or abandoned during the storm are further complicating the cleanup, he said.

The city isn’t equipped to handle cleanup of this scope, according to Moosey. They have enough equipment and staff to handle routine storm cleanup, but nothing of this magnitude. State transportation crews have been busy clearing highways drifted over during the storm.

[Yes, driving in Anchorage is awful right now. Here’s why.]

Moosey said he is trying to find another contractor to help with the cleanup, but all businesses have been booked.

The city is tracking expenses related to the storm, but there hasn’t been additional assistance from the state yet, according to Moosey. He said he does n’t expect there will be a disaster declaration at that level but he is still hoping there might be help getting the roads cleared.

The storm was reminiscent of a windstorm in early January that caused damage throughout Mat-Su. That storm left thousands without power for days, flipped planes at the Palmer Municipal Airport, heavily damaged businesses, broke windows and burst pipes in homes and city buildings.

This storm didn’t result in as much damage, Moosey said, but because of the excess snow left by this month’s storms, it may be even more challenging for the city to recover from.

“We had the once-in-a-lifetime storm in January and it was repeated at the end of this year,” he said. “We’re not where we want to be — it’s just going slow. My staff is working 12 to 16 hours a day and trying to keep the equipment operating when it gets cold.”