Editor’s Note: This story has been changed to include information on a second school bus accident and correct information on the initial incident. The Clarion regrets the error.
Overnight rain made for icy road conditions across the Kenai Peninsula Monday and similar weather is expected for Tuesday morning commuters.
Icy roads caused a truck trailer to lose control and overturn on its side at about 4:45 a.m. Monday at Mile 80 of the Sterling Highway. A two-trailer truck from Midnight Sun Transportation Company in Anchorage was traveling westbound on the Sterling Highway entering Sterling when the back trailer lost control on the ice and overturned.
The accident occurred on the section of highway that expands to two lanes. No other vehicles were involved in the accident, but traffic was blocked for nearly an hour while a tow truck equipped with a crane attempted to put the trailer back upright.
Trooper spokesperson Megan Peters said because the accident occurred so early in the morning, it took a while for a tow truck to respond. When the tow truck arrived, the lane closed occasionally in an attempt to lift the trailer back on its tires. The scene was cleared by 11 a.m., she said.
Alaska State Trooper John King responded to the scene and opened up one lane for cars to pass at about 9:45 a.m. King said as the truck was coming down a slight decline the back end slid wide and caused the second trailer to fall on its side.
Icy roads contributed to two separate school bus accidents in the southern Kenai Peninsula Monday. The first occurred near Anchor Point just before 8 a.m. on North Fork Road. The driver of the school bus, Marion Horde, 72, was heading east when the rear of the bus slid into the opposite lane of travel and struck by a 2004 Chevrolet Suburban, driven by Dona Bennett, 63, according to a trooper report.
No students were on the bus at the time of the collision and both drivers were wearing seatbelts and uninjured. Damage to both vehicles was estimated at $3,500.
The other incident occurred at about 8:50 a.m. at Mile 164 of the Sterling Highway in Homer. A 16-year-old female driving southbound in a Ford F150 truck attempted to pass a school bus driven by Grace Poindexter, 60. The juvenile lost control of her vehicle and collided with the bus, according to a trooper report.
Three students were on the bus at the time but no injuries were reported. Damage to the vehicles was estimated at $9,000. A replacement bus came to pick up the students, who were en route to Homer Middle and Homer High School, according to a release from the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District.
The school district announced school bus delays for all central Kenai Peninsula busses Monday morning. The Funny River Road bus routes experienced delays of up to one hour due to the icy roads, KPBSD spokesperson Pegge Erkeneff wrote in an email.
The district works with First Student, Alaska Department of Transportation, police and the borough to assess road conditions to determine if a two-hour delay start or school closure would be necessary, Erkeneff wrote.
“Many buses were running fully chained for safety,” she wrote. “The district puts student safety as a top priority. … When we have a late start or closure, it is usually posted on our social media and website by 5:15 a.m.”
Borough Health and Safety officer Brad Nelson said while Central Emergency Services hasn’t responded to any accidents Monday, he cautioned drivers to go slow and plan to allow extra time when traveling on the roads.
“By driving around I’ve noticed all the side roads are slick,” Nelson said. “Between freezing rain and colder temperatures Wednesday everything could freeze over. Drivers should leave extra space between vehicles and drive defensively.”
Above average temperatures and early morning rain transformed snowy roads to slush. When the temperatures drop, the roads turn to a sheet of ice.
ADOT spokesperson Shannon McCarthy said in response to system wide freezing rain Monday, crews started at 4 a.m. and moved from the east to west sanding the main highways with salt brine. McCarthy said salt brine is used to melt the ice quicker.
By 6 a.m. the roads were slushy and extra crews were added to lay down sand for traction. All the main lines from the Sterling Highway, Kenai Spur Highway and Kalifornsky Beach Road were sanded by 11 a.m., she said.
“Road conditions can change quickly,” McCarthy said. “With changing temperatures and rain in the forecast crews will be ready to sand again.”
For the central Kenai Peninsula the National Weather Service is calling for an 80 percent chance of rain Monday night with temperatures around 35 degrees and freezing rain before 9 a.m. Tuesday.
National Weather Service lead forecaster Bill Ludwig said the icy morning conditions are expected to continue until Wednesday.
Ludwig said rain is expected to turn to snow Tuesday evening, with about an inch of snow expected to accumulate.
“The light freezing rain and cold temperatures that created problems (Monday) will continue tomorrow,” Ludwig said. “There is a chance of snow each day the rest of the week but nothing significant.”
Temperatures this time last year were colder, Ludwig said. On Dec. 15, 2013 the high temperature in Kenai was 18 degrees and had nearly two inches of snowfall. The above average temperatures would probably continue the rest of the month, he said.
The main reason for the warmer winter is the persistent flow of southerly winds that has brought up warm air from the south, Ludwig said. Because it is an El Nino year, warmer water in the Pacific disrupts normal weather patterns across the continent. An El Nino event typically occurs once every several years, he said.
“A stronger jet stream generally makes for warmer winters,” he said. “Last January was fairly warm, similar to what we are seeing now. You never can be sure what the weather will do.”
Reach Dan Balmer at firstname.lastname@example.org