Alaskan town has 176 inches of snow on the ground

Hey, guys, I figured out where all of Minnesota's winter snow went. It's in Cordova, Alaska.

Since Nov. 1, storms have dropped 176 inches of snow and more than 44 inches of rain on the town, about 150 miles southwest of Anchorage.

Temperatures warmed overnight, and residents awoke to standing water because of stopped-up drains. The rain also made the existing snow heavier.

The warmer temperatures - about 35 degrees midday Wednesday - brought another hazard to the Prince William Sound community of 2,200 people: avalanche danger.

There's one road leading out, and it was closed though it could be opened for emergency vehicles.

"We have the National Guard right now using the standard shovel, and they're getting pretty trashed every day - not the shovels but the Guardsmen themselves," he said.

That's from an AP story in the San Francisco Chronicle. Read the whole thing to learn about the intricacies of snow shovel design, and why a standard shovel just ain't enough to deal with 176 inches of snow. Better ones are being airlifted in.

The image above—taken by the Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management—gives you an idea of what it's like to dig out of a snow pack like this. I will admit, as much as I realize what a disaster it would be to live in Cordova, Alaska right now, there is a part of me (the part that is approximately 5 years old) that just looks at this photo and thinks, "I will build the most AWESOME fort EVER!"


  1. “We have the National Guard right now using the standard shovel, and they’re getting pretty trashed every day ”

    Well tell them to stop drinking and start digging!

  2. We had this much snow on Mt. Graham where our telescope lives a couple years back. The big truck-mounted snowblower broke due to the load.

  3. They’ve got all of Poland’s snow as well.  This winter has been a disaster for those that love sub-zero temperatures and plenty of snow – we haven’t had much more than a sneeze of snow and I don’t think the temperature has dropped below -6C.  Most of the time it’s 0-5.  Hate, hate, hate.

  4. Holy cats, that’s a lot of snow. I like the blue tint to the photo. What time of day did they take the picture, around two in the afternoon?

    1. My guess around 4:00 to 4:10 – late dusk in a snowy climate at high latitude. The light refracts from the clouded sky and from the snow on the ground and produces that sort of dramatic blue ambient light, with shadows reduced to almost nothing.

      At my latitude at this time of year that’s around 4:45 but they’re further North than us, so they’re having sunset about 40 minutes earlier.

  5. After the news last night about the oil tanker trying to get through the ice was the whinging propaganda ad for the melting polar bear habitat….HA HA HA HA H!!!!!

    1. What kringlebertfistyebuns and Maggie said.
      And again again, irregular and extreme weather patterns–including shorter, more concentrated bursts of precipitation in local areas–are actually part of the prognosis, according to lots of climatological research and modeling .

      Predicting timing, severity, and exact location is well beyond any conceivable climate model (that’s local weather forecasting, which is a different thing) but the trend we’re seeing lines up with the worry: that adding lots of solar energy (which is what greenhouse gases do) is pushing the climate system out of its present equilibrium and causing it to get, well, weird. 

      Best predictions: hotter on average, colder sometimes in some places, and generally less predictable and more extreme. Not a laughing MATTE!!!!!, for polar bears or for humans.

  6. This happens in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula as well.  I once had to go out a 2nd floor window in order to get out to the street, turn around and shovel my way back to the house, because we’d gotten about 2 feet of snow that night and when you have that much snow on the ground, the tunnel that you dig to the door drifts in quickly.

  7. Digging tunnels into snow like that is a heap of fun. Even better when you do it on a hill.. pack it down, maybe cheat and use some water to freeze it solid, and go sledding through it. 

    Just don’t do it near parking lots. There were horror stories my parents scared me with of kids being buried/crushed for playing inside a snow berm when the plows came through. I don’t know if that’s ever actually happened, but it seems plausible.

    1. I can remember a couple actual news items relating stories of kids who got crushed just as you mention.  In the last few years, no less.

    2. Reminds me of the enormous snow piles around my school in Grand Rapids, Michigan after the blizzard of ’78.  During recess we first graders would honeycomb them with tunnels, and it was great fun for the two or three weeks before the grownups decided it was “dangerous”. I was more concerned about getting hit in the head with over-packed snowballs. And, of course, the long trudge through the woods on the way to school, and whether that apparent extra set of crunchy footstep sounds behind me was an echo, my imagination….
      or as I  suspected, a little-kid eating abominable snowman stalking its next meal. 

    3. It definitely happens for real. What also happens is kids playing in their snow tunnels getting crushed to death when the tunnel collapses – kids being not particularly good at reinforcing tunnels and all. We hear of a serious injury or death from one or the other every few years here – city of 1.1 million, lots of snow.

      1. Because of the great weight of snow? 
        Been in collapsing snow tunnels.  Uncrushed. 
        A few cubic yards of snow weigh several pounds. 

          1. True, but under a few feet of snow you easily can.  It’s not avalanche compacted snow we’re talking about. 
            Try it to know, I have.

  8. They must have gotten Spain’s snow too, I can usually see snowy peaks in the foothills of the Pyrenees, this year zilch. 

  9. Actually not all of Minnesota’s snow went to Alaska. About half an inch of it came here to Tennessee. Otherwise Alaska would be suffering from 176 AND A HALF inches of snow.

    You’re welcome, Alaska.

    1. Tennessee, we’re all counting on you to turn that half-inch of snow into clear, cool  branch water, add some corn and rye, and put it to good use.

      1. We’ll do our best, although I don’t think anything I could do with the melted snow could improve on what Mr. Daniel down in Lynchburg does throughout the year with spring water collected from a local cave.

  10. Speaking slightly more accurately, but only just, shouldn’t that be California/Nevada/Oregon/Washington’s snow?  I live in Lake Tahoe. Last year, just in November, Squaw Valley got 124 inches of snow. The snow total for the year was something like 60 feet…and that was with a six week dry spell that covered the end of December and most of January.  It was a record year, but it was caused by the same weather pattern that’s dumping all the snow further north. And I do mean all the snow. We got a few inches of snow in late October, and since then…nada. (This of course would be the year I bought two ski passes. And finally got decent skis. And new ski boots. Sigh.)

  11. 176 inches fallen /= 176 inches on the ground.  Depending on the density of the snow, it settles a lot, while some sublimates.
    So, if cleared at each storm, yes that would be about 176″ to clear, but once settled it is something like a third of that.

    1. The nearest NWS station to Cordova I can find currently has 98″ of snow depth.  That’s…plenty.

  12. Maggie, I don’t know what you’re talking about.  I always look at big snow banks with the thought that I could build a hella good fort.  Age be damned. 

    This would’ve been the first winter that my son could’ve had some fun in the snow.  Sadly, no snow.  I can’t, in good faith, count the 3″ we got at the beginning of December or the 1″ we’re getting today.  Pathetic. 

      1. Nope.  You don’t get to make that claim until you call 6″ at a time a nuisance.  Or you start to like the sound snow makes at -20 ° F.
        Don’t worry, you’re definitely getting there!

  13. The Anchorage Daily News reports that some small Naitive American villages have just about run out of heating fuel, with no transport in and temperatures too cold to gather wood.

    “People called each other on the VHF radio asking if anyone has fuel to sell or share, said Noatak resident Hilda Booth. ‘My husband and I are using our fish rack woods to heat up our home because it’s so cold to go out and get wood.'”

  14. Hope the AK National Guard has some serious masotherapy contractors on hand to deal with the back breaking work the troops are doing. Shovels? Nobody has blower equipped Bobcats, Polaris ATV’s… something? How about those muscle augmenting suits they were making for nurses to strap on to help lift patients out of bed? I like shoveling snow but DAYYY-em.

    1. Blowers can’t go up on buildings. They need the shovelers to go up on every building and clear the 98 inches of snow before the roofs cave in from the sheer weight – a real and serious threat. Listened to an interview with a town official last night on Canadian radio.

  15. That picture combined with the reports of the temperature hovering around freezing makes me thing that ice damns are forming on the over-hangs of that roof. This can cause water to back up underneath roof shingles and flood the interior of the house. Are houses in Alaska built with some kind of protection against roof ice damns?

    1. The usual trick is steep slopes combined with extending your water dam coverage further up the roof – heck remembering to include the water dam coverage at all. It’s a sort of rubber sheet that goes down along the edge of the roof – 3′ back here according to code, although my mother got her roof done to 6′ due to the cruddy shallow slope.

  16. I’m always astounded when I see a building with a low-angle or flat roof in snow country.

    Of course flat roofs are always a bad idea in any circumstance, but any roof you have to shovel is just stupid.

      1. Wow, that’s even steeper than mine.  And one of my base criteria for housing is a steep, simple roof!

        As for why it didn’t stick around, I blame the Bauhaus…  form before function.

    1. I live in Anchorage and my home is actually a trailer that has been built around extensively. We have a flat roof and I think it’s because at the time the trailer was added on to it was just the cheapest option. It works and we’ve had no problem with it for two decades, although every few years the tar needs to be touched up. I know a few other “houses” in my neighborhood are the same. I think our place dates back to the oil boom in the seventies.

      1. If your roof is narrow enough, heavy snowfall will turn it into a peaked roof.  But the structure has to be sturdy enough to support the weight of a triangular accumulation of ice, or you’re really depending on luck for your home’s survival.

        That being said, I suspect any trailer that was built sturdy enough to be towed on the highway is probably both sturdy enough and narrow enough to be pretty safe in heavy snow.  The fact that you’re in Anchorage and your trailer hasn’t been squashed flat is anecdotal evidence that I might be right… stay warm up there!

  17. Well, it IS Alaska! I thought there was 176 inches of snow on everything all the time, anyway. But I can’t see any polar bears or eskimos in the picture. Are you sure that is not a house in Russia?

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