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First snow of season blankets Anchorage

The average first snowfall in Anchorage isn’t until Oct. 17, according to the National Weather Service. The earliest recorded snowfall in the city came Sept. 20, 1947.

The mixed rain and snow overnight turned fully to snow during the early morning hours Saturday, catching some off guard as it changed the look of the landscape.

“We saw it as we were going to bed last night, but I was surprised about how much had accumulated overnight,” said Trevor Bird, a ski hill employee who lives on the Lower Hillside. “It’s nice to get the early snow, but this is like, ‘Oh great, it’s coming.’ “

Officially, Upper DeArmoun Road saw the most snow Saturday, with 7 inches measured, the weather service said. The accumulation amounts decreased farther down the Hillside, with less than a quarter-inch at the weather service’s office on Sand Lake Road, not far from the cross-country ski trails at Kincaid Park.

Winter-lovers rejoiced, including at least one man seen heading for the Chugach Mountains with his “rock” skis. Facebook and Twitter lit up with pictures of snow-covered decks, newly built snowmen and white mountains, bright under sunny skies.

Others lamented the snow as an unwelcome sign of the cold, darkness and slippery roads to come. The history-making snowfall of last winter - 133.6 inches, breaking a record set in 1955 - was still fresh in many minds. It had apparently been enough to send some people south, for good.

“Didn’t last winter’s record snowfall just finish melting?” wrote Brenda Whitaker-Kroth on Facebook. “After 40 years of winters in AK, I live in Arizona now just for this reason exactly.”

At Johnson’s Tire Service on Denali Street, saleswoman Chelsea Crabill said business had been steady with walk-ins after Sept. 15, when the state allows motorists to put studded tires on vehicles.

But on Saturday, shocked by the snow, customers started streaming in and filled up appointments for more than a week out, Crabill said.

“You have no idea,” she said when asked if she’d been busy. “We’ve been all go since we opened up at 8 o’clock this morning. It’s been crazy. We haven’t had time to breathe.”

In most of Anchorage, the dusting of snow didn’t linger and had melted off by midday. But up at 1,000 feet or higher, it was expected to stay until warmer weather in the coming week, said Bill Ludwig, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

Based on ocean temperatures in the tropics, computer climate models have actually predicted a slight chance that precipitation levels this winter will be less than average in Anchorage, Ludwig said. Still, those are really just educated, computer-aided guesses, he said.

“It’s too early to tell. It’s a pretty easy forecast to say it’s not going to be as snowy as last winter in Anchorage, since that was the snowiest on record,” Ludwig said.

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Weather events in Southcentral Alaska - record-breaking snowfall, powerful windstorms and deluges of rain - make work more interesting for forecasters, Ludwig said.

“It also makes it more stressful,” he said. “A lot of us are in the weather business because we like the weather, but you kind of need a break from it after a while.”

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