July snow chills Interior
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Summer temps likely to be back by weekend

By TOM MORAN, Staff Writer

What the heck happened to July? It felt more like mid-October on Tuesday and Wednesday, as records fell all over the heart of Alaska. The culprit was a storm moving south from the Arctic Ocean that resulted in wintry temperatures, heavy rains and the first measurable snowfall to ever hit the Denali National Park and Preserve entrance area in July.

The weather also closed the Denali Highway and led to dangerous conditions on the Richardson Highway as of Thursday afternoon. According to Rick Thoman, a National Weather Service meteorologist, the spate of winter-like weather that began Tuesday and carried on through early Thursday was the result of a south-moving cold front that managed to do an end-around at the Brooks Range, which usually stops air masses in their tracks. "It's not uncommon to have these storms affect the North Slope," he said. "What was very unusual about this was that this system actually stayed intact to the south side of the Brooks Range."

Photo courtesy by Eli Kramer FIRE AND ICE--Fireweed lays in the snow outside of the Denali Foundation at 231 Mile of the George Parks Highway Thursday. According to Toby Smith at the foundation, two inches of snow fell overnight. He said it is not unusual for snow to fall at the higher elevations at this time of year, but to get snow at the 1,800 foot level is rare.

He said the storm dodged west, reaching an area of lower peaks, then juked back eastward once it was south of the range. It tackled Fairbanks head-on Tuesday, parking a cloud bank right over the Golden Heart City.

As of Thursday afternoon, the storm had been pushed northward and eastward by a system of high pressure moving in from Siberia and was expected to be out of the state by Thursday night.

In Fairbanks, it will be replaced by clear skies and temperatures that could reach the 70s today and the 80s on Saturday, just in time for Golden Days. "Summer is returning in a hurry here," Thoman noted. "It kind of breaks a tradition. It's supposed to rain for the parade." Old Man Winter's cameo appearance still left a strong impression.

The high temperature at Fairbanks International Airport Wednesday was 48 degrees, the lowest daily high ever recorded there on July 16. The previous record was 56 degrees in 1945. It was only the third July day in 99 years in which the thermometer failed to hit 50 in Fairbanks.

The 0.66 inches of rain that fell in Fairbanks also set a record for the date. Down at Denali headquarters, the high of 42 degrees Wednesday was the lowest high temperature for a July day ever recorded. An inch of snow was measured at park headquarters Thursday morning, the first time measurable snow has fallen there in July since record-keeping began. There was an inch of snow reported at Savage River, 2 inches at the Eielson Visitor Center and nothing at Wonder Lake. The 1.27 inches of precipitation that fell at headquarters in a 24-hour period beginning Wednesday was also a record.

Denali wasn't the only place with a rare midsummer peek at the white stuff. Thoman said 1 to 4 inches fell on Eagle Summit, a quarter-inch was reported on top of Murphy Dome Thursday morning, about 3 inches fell in Cantwell and there were reports of snow on the ground a few dozen miles south of Delta Junction along the Richardson Highway. Snow fell widely in the central and eastern Brooks Range and 3 inches fell at 239 Mile Dalton Highway.

The state Department of Transportation issued a notice at 2 p.m. Thursday advising travelers to avoid the Richardson Highway roughly between Delta and Paxson because snow and heavy rain had made the road very slick. Also Thursday, the DOT sent out notice that the Denali Highway was closed until further notice because the rain had caused washouts and water across the roadway between Cantwell and 119 Mile on the far western reaches of the road. Officials are uncertain when the road will be repaired and expect a significant delay before it can be reopened. Water is still high and fast in the area and six culverts have either washed out or are almost gone.

The culvert at 121.5 Mile had been washed away and replaced by a hole 18 feet wide and 14 feet deep, said Shannon McCarthy, information officer for the DOT's northern region. A flood watch also remained in place Thursday afternoon for the Tanana River between Big Delta and Fairbanks. Thoman said the weather front was just an aberration and didn't see it as indicative of any trends. "It's one of those things that make weather fun," he said. "Climate's what you expect and weather's what you get." Reporter Tom Moran can be reached at tmoran@newsminer.com or 459-7590.

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