Officials in Canada’s Yukon Territory closed the Klondike Highway and a stretch of the Alaska Highway on Monday due to heavy, blowing snow drifting on a road surface made slick with ice.
While warm, wet weather has wreaked havoc with other roads on the Alaska side of the border, including the Richardson Highway north of Valdez, crews were able to reopen the Alaska Highway by Monday afternoon.
Yukon Department of Highways and Public Works officials reopened the Alaska Highway about 3 p.m. after closing it to give snowplows a chance to clear snow between Destruction Bay and Haines Junction.
“Above and below zero weather, freezing and re-freezing, snow, blowing snow, drifting snow, freezing rain,” department spokeswoman Heather McKay said. “All those sorts of conditions which have contributed to the situation … .”
McKay said her department knows the highway is an important lifeline for goods headed to Alaska. But she said the closure was necessary to clear the roadway.
“We don’t take the decision to close the road lightly,” she said.
Two other roadways leading into Alaska remained closed Monday night. The Top of the World Highway from Dawson City, Yukon to Eagle, Alaska is impassable, due to heavy snow. And the Klondike Highway remains closed due to a combination of snow, rain and runoff from glacier overflows on a roadway surface already slick with ice.
Alaska transportation officials closed the Klondike Highway just outside Skagway because of the closure on the Canadian side. Monday’s high temperatures in that area reached into the 40s.
Roads around Interior Alaska also were icy due to unseasonably warm, wet weather.
National Weather Service meteorologist John Cowen said the freezing rain that fell for a while around Fairbanks Monday morning came from a small amount of precipitation that made its way up and over the Alaska Range.
“There was a warm layer sitting up just above us,” Cowen said. “And that gave the precip just a little bit of time to melt on its way down and then re-freeze once it got to the surface.”
Mixed rain and snow has also made driving very difficult at the southern end of the Richardson Highway, north of Valdez. Transportation officials recommended chains for vehicles headed through Thompson Pass.