Large Snow Quantities Put Alaska At Risk For Flooding
Spring breakup is right around the corner
ALASKA - March is right around the corner and the countdown to spring breakup has begun.
Standing in an aisle at the Midtown Anchorage Home Depot store manager Zachary Greenbough wielded a heavy, wood-handled ice chipper, gesturing at a row of steel snow shovels hanging on a rack above him.
“A lot of people have these lying around their house already,” he said, gesturing animatedly. In a little more than a month, he said, the store will be flooded with people seeking quick remedies to an annual problem – spring flooding.
With more than 113 inches of snowfall this winter it’s the fifth snowiest season on record and public work crews have kept busy pushing it out of roadways and hauling it all to snow dumps around town. Soon though, department officials said their task will change.
"We haul in the spring, usually only one time right before it melts, so we try to get all those drainage ditches clear and ready to handle to snow," said Public Works Director Ron Thompson.
While it's an annual event, Thompson said the flooding is contingent on everything from seasonal snow cover to winter temperatures and even ground freeze levels.
"People don't realize that snow acts as an insulator," Thompson said, which means this year's abnormally high snowfall could mean less severe flooding than usual.
When the snow begins to accumulate before the temperatures drop, Thompson said it prevents the ground from freezing too far down. Then when the snow begins to melt in the spring it's absorbed into the ground, reducing the risk of a flood.
It's a scenario Greenbough has seen play out many times.
"I've been in Alaska my whole life and I've seen some bad years," he said, including some springs in the Mat-Su Valley where the water came up to his knees and flooded car tailpipes while they sat parked in driveways.
There are a few things homeowners can do to prevent flood damage on their properties.
The key is prevention: By chipping away at built-up ice during the winter, Greenbough said Anchorage resident can prevent melting snow from pooling around home foundations, flooding basements and causing other structural damage.