Record-Breaking Warmth In Alaska Caused A Monster Avalanche

Last Friday, a major avalanche caused by the extremely warm weather completely blocked the only road into and out of the town of Valdez, Alaska. The ice and debris from the avalanche dammed a nearby river as well, creating a lake over the road.

Screen Shot 2014 01 29 at 2.10.44 PMGoogle MapsRichardson Highway, also known as Alaska Route 4, is the only way into or out of Valdez, Alaska (A).

“A 2,000-foot section of road is still submerged under at least 10 feet of water in Keystone Canyon,” according to the Anchorage Daily News, and the Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities has no target date for reopening the highway.

The town is fine for now, as they have a fully stocked Safeway. They are working to clear the road, named Richardson Highway. At least one of the avalanches was natural and the other seems to have been caused by blasting.

According to the Anchorage Daily News, “Highway officials say they’ve never seen an avalanche this large touch a roadway.” And slides are still possible, making cleanup difficult. The slides also caused nearby Lowe river to pool and cover the roadway with a new lake.

Here’s an image from the Alaskan National Weather Service. The road is tiny in this image and completely covered by snow, ice, water, and even trees still on the mountainside that slid over the road:

Helicopter footage published on Tuesday has captured the extent of the flooding.

While Georgia was battling two inches of snow and the East coast had weather in the 20s, Alaska had a beautiful, spring-like day on Tuesday with highs reaching the 60s. Six new all-time highest temperature records were set across the state, according to the National Weather Service.

The warm spell is actually linked to the cold we are experiencing in the lower 48. As cold Arctic air is pushed down south by the unstable polar vortex, warm air that would normally be in California can flow up to Alaska.

Here’s some more explainer from David Snyder at the National Weather Service in Anchorage:

Slate’s Eric Holthaus notes these wacky weather patterns seem to be related to warming in the Arctic:

Research hints that this type of pattern can be triggered by the recent massive loss in Arctic sea ice due to the effects of human-induced climate change. One recent study which attempted to explain this counterintuitive “Warm Arctic — Cold Continents” phenomenon during similar patterns in the 2009-’10 and 2010-’11 winters called it ‘a major challenge’ to understand, though the pattern is ‘consistent with continued loss of sea ice over the next 40 years.’ Bottom line: Something weird is going on, but scientists are still trying to nail down exactly what it is.

And for the people of Valdez, this is what that weird looks like:

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