This winter saw second highest snowfall in recorded history
The snowfall in Nome over the winter didn’t break the all-time record but it came close.
According to the National Weather Service, 115.5 inches of snow fell, making the winter of 2017/18 number two for snowfall since modern weather reporting began.
The winter of 1994/95 remains the undisputed record setter with 129 inches.
As of press time, Old Man Winter is still hanging around as evidenced by cool temperatures and occasional snow flurries.
Large amounts of snow complicates life for Nome’s citizens. This is especially true for the road crews, who keep the streets open for traffic.
Their first concern is to keep emergency lanes open on the major arteries. After that they plow emergency lanes on the secondary streets, and after that the crews pick up the piles of snow people have pushed out into the streets.
Last year, city workers hauled “only” 5,500 truckloads of snow to the snowdump, compared to this year’s 11,556 truckloads, as of May 4.
According to Nome City Manager Tom Moran the tundra wasn’t sufficiently frozen at the beginning of the season to push the snow out. That made it difficult to keep up with the falling flakes. Additional trouble came from objects such as cars, trailers, and 4-wheelers left in the right away. “Moving parked cars, ATV’s, and trailers prior to and during the snow season helps tremendously,” said Moran. He also pointed out that removing garbage containers after pickup is helpful to the crews.
Moving heavy snow out of the roads on an almost daily basis is costly. The city spent $69,000 on overtime and another $30,000 for temporary drivers. Moran said the city has five workers on the road crew, had three temporary hires and reassigned two port staff to help clearing snow this winter.
“Storminess” is a term National Weather Service Climate Sciences and Services Manager Rick Thoman used to describe one of the primary characteristics of Nome’s weather this winter. Storm followed storm and gave the road crews little rest. “This was certainly unusually stormy but nothing we haven’t seen before,” said Thoman. According to Thoman we have seen winters with this much snow but we’ve never seen anything like the lack of sea ice ever. “With almost anything in the natural world whether it’s weather or the atmosphere or snow or biology or whatever, it’s almost always more than one cause. It’s never one thing. But people like to hang their hat on one peg.”
Thoman describes climate change as the kind of background that all the other weather gets played out on. The changes from year to year are subtle and after a time the change is noticeable. “There are many different pieces to this puzzle,” he said. “For the storminess, the larger scale changes probably weren’t a big player. For the Bering Sea temperatures and resulting ice, probably a much bigger role. Storminess had a part in that, too.”
The Alaska Department of Transportation is responsible for road maintenance and snow clearing on Bering, Front, and Seppala Streets. They also plow Doyle Road and Center Creek Road. “We’ve expended our budget this year because of the heavy snowfall,” said Calvin Schaeffer, DOT’s Western District Superintendent in Nome. “We have to be creative in dispatching equipment in the most effective and efficient way.”
“When we’re having storms that are back-to-back we have an early shift that comes in at five,” said DOT’s Stosh Labinski. “They’re the guys who are usually in the graders. They’ll plow the highway and take care of Bering, Front, and Seppala. And Doyle Road and Center Creek Road. From there the dayshift comes on at eight and we’ll start hauling snow in town and the guys will go out and hit the outlying roads from the end of the asphalt on the Teller Highway to 7-Mile Snake River Bridge and Dexter Bypass. Depending on how much snow we get it tells us whether we need to go to the Beam Road first, because there’s residents that live out there. Then we’ll go to Farley’s.”
On a few occasions this year, the roads were drifted in to the point where even large trucks could not bust through the snow drifts and DOT crews had to plow a trail for residents in the outlaying settlements of Triple Creek, Dexter or Banner Creek to the east, and residents at Snake River to the west, to make it home.
Anahma Shannon lives at Banner Creek, about 13 miles north of Nome. “My husband and I were talking about this just this morning,” she said. “And we were wondering when we’d seen a winter that was so persistent.“ They park their cars on the Kougarok Road and walk, ski, or snow machine home. Over the past five years there were two winters where they could drive all the way home, the snow was so sparse. “And that was unheard of,” said Shannon. She has praise for the DOT workers. “I’m so grateful to those guys. In my opinion those guys are in their heavy equipment, already removing snow for the rest of us while we’re pushing our snooze alarm. They’ve kept the roads open, they’ve kept it safe for us. I think we’re in for a few more years of this so DOT better beef it up.”
Ironically, the incessant snow prevented mushing events from happening. Due to back-to-back storms that lasted over nearly a month and a half, all but one Nome Kennel Club race were canceled.
The Nugget asked DOT’s Calvin Schaeffer if there was anything different, other than the storms and the snow, about this winter.
“Yeah! It hasn’t quit yet,” he replied. “Usually by about the third week of April it’s starting to become springtime here. We don’t have the runoff yet or the 35 or 40 degree weather.”