Going snowhere: After 106 inches, Anchorage needs more snow dumps

Ever wonder -- after it's been snowing all winter long (think "War and Peace") -- where all that snow goes?

Up in Anchorage, they're beginning to ponder the same thing. With more than 106 inches of snow so far, the city's designated private snow dumps are nearly full -- many are closed -- and it's still coming down.

"The challenge this year is we've had numerous snowfalls back-to-back-to-back. And usually, we get 1- and 2-inch snowfalls. This year, we're seeing 6 to 10 inches," said Alan Czajkowski, deputy director of maintenance and operations for the city of Anchorage, in an interview with the Los Angeles Times.

"And then, we got 4 more inches last night."

After a big snowfall, the city undertakes what's called a "plow-out," with a fleet of 30 graders and 16 dump trucks working their way through town -- first plowing, then hauling away, snow to places where residents can forget it ever happened.

"It's basically a 24/7 operation," said Czajkowski, whose name, appropriately enough for the mechanical symphonies he conducts, is a variant of the famed Russian composer's.

In a briefing paper, city officials said the amount of snow hauled as of January, if placed on a five-acre lot, would be 250 feet deep.

There's no problem at the city's seven municipal snow dumps, even though some of the discarded snow there already is towering up to 60 feet high. The problem is at the smaller commercial dump sites, where private companies plowing parking lots, condo walkways and sidewalks deposit their frozen treasure.

Six of the seven private dump sites normally used are full and have had to close, the Anchorage Daily News reported.

"Now the last one is getting ready to run out of room," Marcel Warmilee, owner of private hauler Arctic Green LLC, said in a telephone interview.

Warmilee, who moved to Anchorage 22 years ago from Hermosa Beach, Calif., said he's seen this much snow only once since he arrived. The big problem, he said, is that most of the areas that were once prime snow dump sites have been developed as the city expands.

Private contractors are pushing the city to allow them to use municipal dumps, he said. In the meantime, the Anchorage Assembly was scheduled Tuesday night to consider a measure to temporarily ease land-use regulations for opening new private snow dump sites.

"We're just helping them expedite the process," Czajkowski said. "Because we still have basically another month of winter here."


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Photo: City crews clear snow in the Inlet View neighborhood of Anchorage. Credit: Erik Hill / Anchorage Daily News/MCT

Alaska snow woes hit weary, starving moose

Alaskans can add one more woe to the problems that come with a long, cold winter full of heavy snow: weary moose.

It's actually gone beyond weary, wildlife advocates say, because moose are starving, perishing on railroad tracks and slamming through automobile windshields along highways where they go to escape the deep snow.

"It's belly deep, shoulder deep for these moose," Gary Olson, head of the Alaska Moose Federation, said in an interview. "The calves are the worst off. We've gotten reports of calves that have just given up, and the ravens are already picking at them, and they're still alive."

The state Department of Fish and Game this week announced approval of a permit for the federation to begin a diversionary feeding program for snow-stranded moose, allowing the clearing of plowed trails and the placing of bags of healthy feed as a respite until spring.

"We are authorizing this extraordinary step due to public safety concerns. We hope the diversionary feeding stations will lure moose away from roads and will reduce moose-vehicle collisions and other dangerous encounters," Tony Kavalok, assistant director of the state Division of Wildlife Conservation, said in a statement.

Snow is now 5 to 6 feet deep in many parts of south central Alaska. Anchorage has received 103 inches of snow so far this year, and parts of the state, notably Prince William Sound, have seen even more.

While moose with their long legs normally can navigate relatively heavy snow, plowing through 5 feet for any length of time is exhausting. Many make their way to highways or railroad tracks, where the snow is cleared, but dangers abound. 

In the Matanuska-Susitna borough north of Anchorage, the average number of vehicle-moose collisions is 270 annually. That number was reached near the end of December, and officials are predicting it could double by the end of winter.

There have been more than 600 moose collisions so far across the entire region down to the Kenai Peninsula, state officials say.

"The problem with your typical moose is the body mass of the animal is far above most cars, so when a moose is struck it has an unfortunate tendency to come in the windshield, and sometimes not to trigger the airbags," Olson said.

"With the increased fuel standards coming out of our capitol in D.C., the cars are getting smaller, and the moose aren't. So it's bad."

Alaska State Troopers spokeswoman Megan Peters said the agency has no records of how many people have been injured in moose collisions this year, but Alaska's history is replete with horror stories.

"I remember a wreck a few years back where all four people in the vehicle were killed after a moose was struck," Peters said in an email.

State authorities also get calls about defiant moose straddling plowed sidewalks at rest stops, defying those who hope to reach the restrooms.

Kavalok told the Los Angeles Times that the diversionary feeding authorized this week is different from the controversial feeding supplements sometimes offered wildlife whose winter ranges have been reduced, such as those put out for elk in Wyoming.

"This is not a supplemental feeding program. This is about getting moose attracted off the [road] corridors where they're concentrating so they're not subject to collision with motor vehicles," he said. "The whole issue is getting them a place to move to, and providing a way for them to get there."

The moose federation is using heavy track vehicles to clear snow pathways for the animals. Next, workers will put lay out feed bags to lure moose into the safety zones.

The organization has also resumed its road-kill salvage program, under which it sends trucks out to pick up carcasses and deliver them to charity groups where they can be safely butchered, avoiding the need, as is normally the case, to set up butcher stations right next to the roads.

Olson said workers are also conducting aerial surveys away from the highways, finding places where moose are stuck in deep snow near trees whose branches they can reach for food.

"What a moose does when it gets in really deep snow is they in essence plow a big circle out with their body, and they're going from tree to tree. Each time they take more of the limbs, and as they reach further up, they keep getting more wood and less bark -- and remember, the nutrients are in the bark. So they can literally perish with a stomach full of wood," Olson said.

"These herded moose are quickly exhausting any food where they are now."


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Photo: A moose forages on a branch in a neighborhood of west Anchorage. Credit: Erik Hill / Anchorage Daily News / Associated Press

Blizzard moves east across Denver, dumps 2 inches of snow an hour


A blizzard moving across Denver and into parts of the Midwest is dumping 2 inches of snow every hour, prompting the cancellation of 600 flights at Denver International Airport and closing roads across northeastern Colorado. 

The fierce storm -- coming after a relatively mild and balmy winter -- is producing wind gusts of up to 40 mph and has forced closure of schools, businesses and government offices.

Denver's metro area has seen about 10 inches of snow so far, and snow totals are expected to hit about 2feet, said Chad Gimmestad, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Denver.

"It’s very slow moving," Gimmestad said. "It’ll be crawling across Kansas and Nebraska tomorrow. Here in Denver, we’re looking at least 36 hours of steady snow." 

The storm, the worst blizzard since 2006, has caused hundreds of accidents on Colorado roads and highways, said Capt. Jeff Goodwin, a spokesman for the Colorado State Patrol. 

"Mainly minor accidents, fender benders and spinouts," he said. 

Two Colorado troopers investigating accidents were rear-ended, Goodwin said. One was treated at an area hospital for minor injuries. 

Because of the winds, visibility was low -- in some places, only a few hundred feet, Goodwin reported. Denver International Airport said in a statement that about 600 flights had been canceled due to the storm.

The storm is expected to weaken and move out by Saturday night, the National Weather Service said. 

The snowfall was a boon to ski resorts in the area, which have been starved for snow.

At Eldora Mountain Resort, the Denver Post reported that several hundred snow sport enthusiasts lined up for the first lifts to open.


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Photo: Motorist Myron Balason takes a photo of his car on Highway 94 as he waits for a tow truck to pull his vehicle from a snowbank on Friday in Colorado Springs, Colo. Credit: Mark Reis / Colorado Springs Gazette


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Rene Lynch has been an editor and writer in Metro, Sports, Business, Calendar and Food. @ReneLynch

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