Heavy snow in the mountains and warm, rainy weather below is causing dangerous avalanche conditions across southcentral Alaska, including along Turnagain Arm. Snowy peaks along the Seward Highway threaten the road below.


Alaska Department of Transportation spokesperson Jill Reese says avalanches have wiped cars off the road before. To stop that from happening, crews use howitzers, fired at the peaks, to trigger slides. On Thursday, parts of the highway were shut down so crews could work, while keeping drivers at a safe distance.


“We’re getting better and better and preventing those, or at least causing them to come down, while traffic is stopped so that we can clear up the snow in a controlled way,” said Reese.


Despite their efforts, avalanches could still happen. Reese says, if you see snow crossing the roadway, don’t drive through it and call 911.


Mitigation efforts are not happening in the backcountry. Chugach National Forest Avalanche Information Center (CNFAIC) director Wendy Wagner says there’s a high risk of slides across the region. An avalanche warning is in place until 7 am Friday morning, although it could be extended, depending on conditions.


“We definitely don’t want people out in avalanche terrain,” said Wagner. “This is a widespread, dangerous avalanche condition time for all areas on the Kenai, down to Seward, the Girdwood valley and western Chugach.”


Wagner says large slides could reach all the way to valley floors — making activities like hiking, skiing and snow machining, especially dangerous this weekend. Even if skies clear, Wagner advises giving the snow on the mountains 24 to 48 hours to settle.


“Right after a storm, you want to enjoy the powder and you want to enjoy the slopes but that’s when you have to be the most cautious,” she said. The day after a storm is actually the most dangerous and when the highest number of human-triggered avalanches occurs.


“It’s a true danger,” said Reese. “We have whole studies that we continue to do on mitigating avalanches because it is such a danger.”


If you do plan to head out over the next few days, whether driving the highway or recreating in the backcountry, check conditions first. The CNFAIC updates conditions on it’s website every morning at 7 am.


KTVA 11’s Bonney Bowman can be reached via email or on Facebook and Twitter.