Thousands without power as heavy winds pummel Southcentral Alaska

·6 min read

Jan. 4—Expand

Autoplay

Image 1 of 20

Wind shreds plastic sheeting on a structure in Wasilla on January 3, 2022. (Marc Lester / ADN)

Note: This story has been updated with a new article: Powerful winds cause outages and destruction in Matanuska Valley.

Strong winds hammered Southcentral Alaska on Sunday, leaving thousands of homes without power, flipping small planes and at least two semi-trucks, shattering windows and causing near-whiteout conditions along highways.

The worst of it was focused in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough. Gusts up to 91 mph were reported Sunday at the interchange of the Glenn and Parks highways, according to the National Weather Service. A gust of 79 mph was reported at the Palmer Airport. Anchorage saw gusts between 50 and 60 mph.

The Red Cross was operating shelters in Palmer and Wasilla for people needing refuge from the wind. The locations are Curtis D. Menard Sports Center in Wasilla, 1001 S. Clapp St., and the Mat-Su Senior Services Center in Palmer, 1132 S. Chugach St.

Two semitrailers overturned on the Parks Highway near Wasilla on Sunday afternoon, and two portable sheds had blown across the road earlier in the day. One of the semis, with a 40-foot trailer, blocked a northbound lane of traffic at the Glenn-Parks interchange at the Palmer exit. The lane was expected to be closed until early Monday because weather conditions prevented the semitrailer from being moved, Alaska State Troopers said.

At the Palmer Municipal Airport, several planes were flipped upside down by Sunday afternoon and others appeared to be pushed into a snowbank.

By Sunday evening, the Mat-Su Borough was advising residents to shelter in place until the storm was over. "Conditions continue to deteriorate and the winds are causing issues throughout the Borough. Reports of impassable roads blocked by trees, downed power lines, shattered windows in homes and vehicles have been received," the borough wrote on Facebook.

Due to the high winds, poor road conditions and multiple power outages, the Mat-Su School District announced that schools would be closed Monday. Mat-Su Borough facilities were also to be closed Monday, borough said.

Nearly 19,000 customers in Mat-Su were without power around 7 p.m. Sunday, the Matanuska Electric Association reported. Outages were spread across the Mat-Su, including in Talkeetna, Willow, Palmer, Wasilla and Sutton. The association did not have restoration estimates for many of the outages said in a Saturday post on Facebook that crews were working on repairs amid volatile conditions.

"We have all of our available in-house linemen crews and some contract crews that are working on the many outages which are spread out throughout our service territory," spokeswoman Jennifer Castro said by email Sunday. "We will continue to work until we have everyone back on. We greatly appreciate the patience of our members as some outages are taking much longer to restore, depending on the storm related damage in their area."

She recommended that people have emergency supplies available in case there is an extended outage.

"If your house is getting cold or your situation is becoming dire, please do not hesitate to make other arrangements if you can," the association wrote on Facebook around 1 p.m. "There's no guarantee that power will be restored soon and it's better to be safe than sorry."

To the south on the Kenai Peninsula, more than 600 Homer Electric Association users were without power Sunday night. About 2,200 members had been without power earlier in the day. Outages were reported in Sterling, Nikiski and the Kenai/Soldotna area, among other areas. Trees blew onto power lines and downed them Saturday and Sunday, the association said. Crews hoped to finish repairs on the north end of the peninsula Sunday.

The heavy winds were not expected to relent Sunday, meteorologist Shaun Baines said. Northeast winds of 40 to 50 mph were expected in the Matanuska Valley with gusts up to 80 mph throughout the day and into the night, the weather service said in a high wind warning that will remain in place until 6 a.m. Monday.

"This is the most impressive event we've had in years up there," Baines said. "This is a long duration and I see no signs of diminishing until late tonight or early tomorrow morning."

The high winds created dangerous driving conditions and prompted Alaska State Troopers to partially close and later temporarily reroute the Glenn Highway on Saturday because of whiteout conditions.

Driving conditions remained dangerous Sunday, Baines said. The winds caused blowing snow and reduced visibility on the Glenn and Parks Highways around Palmer and Wasilla, according to the Department of Transportation.

In Wasilla, Kathy Morris said the winds blew out a double-paned window in the dining room of her home. She awoke to the sound of shattering around 6:30 a.m.

"I think the scariest part of it was getting it boarded up and knowing we couldn't go outside to do it because it was too windy," she said. "There was no way to put a ladder up, so we did it from the inside. I put on an extra coat to make sure that if it continued to blow in that I didn't get shards of glass on my chest."

As heavy winds whipped throughout the Matanuska Valley, street signs were ripped from the ground and trees were downed. Photos on social media Sunday showed broken fences, blown over backyard playground sets and toppled sheds.

Conditions in Anchorage were less severe than in the Valley. Still, gusts up to 60 mph were possible throughout Anchorage on Sunday, with sustained north winds of 30 to 45 mph, the weather service wrote in a high wind warning.

Chugach Electric Association reported around 55 members were without power by noon, with a larger outage in the Spenard neighborhood affecting about 750 members resolved by midday. A few small outages were expected throughout town on Sunday, Chugach Electric wrote in a Facebook post.

A gust of 54 mph was reported at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson and a 41 mph gust was reported at the Merrill Field Airport. The strongest winds were expected in the northern portion of town, he said. Gusts in South Anchorage were between 21-26 mph on Sunday.

The high winds were brought into the area Saturday from a cold air mass moving south from Interior Alaska.

High wind gusts were reported across much of southern Alaska by Saturday night. In King Cove and Thompson Pass, gusts reached 76 mph. On the Kenai Peninsula, gusts were reported ranging from 40 mph in Homer to 58 mph in Seward.

The high winds also brought low temperatures, with wind chill values expected from 15 to 30 degrees below zero through Anchorage and the Matanuska Valley. In the Susitna Valley, "very cold wind chills" as low as 45 degrees below zero were possible, the weather service said in a wind chill advisory.

Low temperatures and powerful winds were also impacting Southeast Alaska on Sunday, with gusts up to 70 mph expected until late Monday in Juneau and gusts up to 60 mph expected to last until Tuesday afternoon near Skagway, the weather service said in a high wind warning.

Daily News photographer Bill Roth contributed.