Alaskans brace for a record 12 feet of snow in two days

An atmospheric river is setting up southeastern Alaska for a huge snowfall

The snowiest place in Alaska could become the second snowiest as an atmospheric river is forecast to dump up to 144 inches of snow on the Chugach Mountains.

Mount Marcus Baker is the highest point in the Chugach Range, northeast of Anchorage and northwest of Valdez. Check out the snow forecast for a weather station near Sheep Mountain Airport, on the mountain at 13,176 feet in elevation:

  • Sunday: 72 to 78 inches of snow
  • Sunday night: 27 to 33 inches of snow
  • Monday: 17 to 33 inches of snow

Can you imagine a storm leaving 144 inches – or 12 feet – of snow in two days?  That would cover all but the eaves and roof of a one-story home.

Thomson Pass is the snowiest place in Alaska, also in the Chugach Mountains at 2,805 feet in elevation. The pass gets an average of 500 inches of snow per year. It holds the record for the snowiest day in Alaska, with 62 inches on Dec. 29, 1955.

Could records fall? It looks like it!

Alaska 24-hour snowfall record:

  • Thompson Pass 24-hour record: 62 inches
  • Mountain Marcus Baker 24-hour forecast: 99 to 111 inches

Alaska 2-day snowfall record:

  • Thomson Pass 2-day snowfall record: 120.6 inches
  • Mountain Marcus Baker 48-hour forecast: 116 to 144 inches

Sunday's snow could even topple the U.S. record for 24-hour snowfall of 75.8 inches in Silver Lake, Colorado, from April 1921.

Why so much snow?

An atmospheric river is fueling these snowstorms.

The jet stream is focusing moist, subtropical air into southeastern Alaska. That moist air moving north is pushing up against a low pressure center, bringing freezing temperatures southward into western Alaska.

While the Chugach Range is getting feet of snow, 45- to 55-mph sustained winds with higher gusts, and high temperatures in the single digits, the eastern side of the frontal boundary is seeing rain – and lots of it. The Kenai and northeast Alaska peninsulas have already seen 2 to 7 inches of rain.

What do you do with all that snow?

The state does not maintain the Sheep Mountain Airport, but there are several all-terrain vehicle trails and hiking trails through the area, so snow removal is not a problem.

Thompson Pass is home to Richardson Highway and the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline, so crews will keep it clear all year long. The area is also a favorite for heli-skiers and snowboarders who will undoubtedly be overjoyed.