2015 December Monthly Report
December started out with forecasts of up to a foot of snow at Hyder. Hatcher pass reopened to vehicles and snowmachines on the 2nd after being closed in November for avalanche danger. The Elliott Highway was rendered impassable on the 3rd due to blowing and drifting snow. Dense fog advisories were issued for the Knik and Matanuska River valleys on the 5th, then again for the Glenn Highway on the 7th. Lightning was detected on the Prince of Wales Island and Ketchikan area on the 8th, while winds up to 40 mph occurred at Ketchikan as a strong front approached the southern Panhandle. Northern Panhandle areas were forecasted to receive heavy snowfall on the 13th and 14th, and Haines area received up to 6" while Yakutat totaled 4.5".
The Coast Guard and National Weather Service released warnings for a powerful storm with near hurricane force winds and 45-foot seas in the Bering Sea and 60-foot seas and winds up to 80 mph for the Pacific side of the Aleutians Islands starting the weekend of the 12th. Precautions were advised. Adak reported a wind gust of 78 mph on the 12th, then up to 112 mph on the 13th. The 13th saw gale or higher warnings for most of the coast of Alaska from the Southeast to Northwest, with the strongest warnings for the Bering Sea area. Seas were measured up to 53 ft. and the lowest atmospheric sea level pressure was 929.0 mb at a western Aleutian Buoy. The storm ended up as equal to a category 3 hurricane, and substantial property damage was reported at Adak and Atka. Wind warnings for the Bering Sea area continued until the 18th as another storm moved through the area and winds were expected to again top 80 mph at Adak, 75 mph at St. Paul Island and 60 mph at Saint Laurence Island. On the 17th, with another storm bearing down on the town, Adak declared a local disaster from the first storm.
Winter watches for Yakutat and Juneau areas, winter warnings for southern Kenai Peninsula and parts of western Alaska were also issued on the 13th. Storm warnings moved to the southern coastal areas on the 15th, with additional winds advisories (gusts up to 60 mph) for the passes in the Alaska Range and blowing snow and near blizzard conditions for the North Slope. Heavy snow was forecasted for Yakutat and Valdez on the 15th (Valdez totaled 10.0" of snow). Freezing rain was noted in the Turnagain Pass on the 17th, and heavy blowing snowed followed in the area in the 18th. Over 6" of snow was reported at Dillingham on the 18th. All the recent snow allowed the Eaglecrest ski area to fully open up the 18th. Up to 7" of snow was reported in the Haines area on the 22nd.
Storm, gale and heavy freezing spray warnings were again issued for the Bering Sea area and western Alaska on the 23rd, The same day there were wind chill warnings up to -55°F for the North Slope area. Heavy snow cautions were issued for the northern Gulf Coast and Southeast on the 24th, while high wind warnings continued for Bristol Bay area. All the warnings continued into Christmas day, with the addition of winter storm warnings and watches for the Southeast, Koyukuk and Yukon River Valleys. High winds were forecasted for the Alaska Range Passes and North Slope region for gusts up to 60 mph. Douglas received 5" of snow in the 26th, while Haines totaled 6.8".
Wind advisories for Alaska Range Passes continued on the 27th for gusts up to 65 mph, and were increased to warnings on the 28th for gusts up to 70 mph as a strong southerly flow pushed through the areas. Higher winds were again forecasted in the next day: Antler Creek near Denali Park reported 63 mph, and up to 77 mph was reported along the Richardson Highway. Electricity was knocked out for about 200 customers in the Fairbanks area on the 28th, not due to high winds, but rather snow falling off trees due to the warmer temperatures brought on the by high winds in the mountains to the south. Areas near the Alaska Range were forecast for winds up 100 mph for the 29th, and high winds continued into the 31st.
Also on the 28th and 29th high wind speeds of up to 100 mph were forecast for the Bristol Bay region. Blizzard warnings were issued for the Bering Strait Coast, while watches and warnings continued for much of western Alaska till the 30th. A mixture of snow and rain made for slippery roads in Anchorage on the 28th, while avalanche control was performed along the Seward at miles 82-89 in the Girdwood/Portage area.
High wind warnings were placed for Turnagain Arm and Portage Valley on the 29th for winds up to 80 mph that would make travel difficult. Gust up to 98 mph near McHugh Creek and 91 mph were measured near Whittier on the 29th, blowing two semitrailers off the Portage Glacier Road and causing the access tunnel to Whittier to close for about five hours. High wind warnings also stretched to Kachemak Bay and the southern Kenai Peninsula. The winds stopped a sailing from Homer to Kodiak by the ferry Tustumena. Some other high gusts: 81 mph at Cordova, 62 mph at Kodiak, 91 mph at Cape Newenham, 77 mph at King Salmon.
The winds continued into the 30th, and the warm air streamed into central Alaska from the storm resulted in new high temperature records on the 30th, as noted in the table above. The high in Fairbanks of 45°F shattered the old record of 35°F from 1982. Flood advisory was issued for Anchor River due to ice jams and recent rains. The recent high winds resulted in power outages for about 3,000 customers in Anchorage. Difficult driving conditions were predicted for the Glennallen Highway near Glennallen and icy roads made for treacherous driving on the Dalton Highway with a number of avalanches occurring at Atigun Pass. Blizzard conditions were reported at Thompson Pass on the Richardson Highway. Avalanche danger forced the closure of the Klondike Highway also on the 30th. At the end of the month, numerous grounded Murres (sea birds) were being found inland in Southcentral and all the way to Two Rivers in the Interior; it is believed they had been blown inland by the winds.