Tag Archives: fire

The remnants of Merbok…

…still packed quite the punch.

Graphic credit: NWS-Fairbanks

The western coast of Alaska was pummeled over the weekend by the remnants of Typhoon Merbok. Sustained winds over 50 mph, with gusts over 90; 50 foot waves and a storm surge 15 feet above high tide left many evacuating to higher ground.

Image credit: NOAA

It was the worst storm our Western Coast has experienced in 50 years, and it has been 70 years since a storm this fierce hit in September.

Front Street, Nome, Alaska; Image credit: S.Kinneen

To its credit, The National Weather Service was remarkably accurate in its forecast of the storm. Several days out, the NWS was getting out the word that this was going to be a devastating flooding event. All the ingredients came together perfectly to create some “very angry seas”.

A house swept off its foundation by flood waters, stuck at the Snake River Bridge in Nome, Alaska; Photo credit: Alaska DOT&PF
From the steps of the school in Golovin, Alaska; Photo credit: Josephine Daniels

High winds have taken roofs off of buildings, one building in Nome suffered from a fire, and the storm surge has evicted hundreds. Many took shelter in schools, or to higher ground.

My favorite village of Newtok has been flooded, and many have taken to the school for shelter. The riverbank at Newtok has eroded between 10-15 feet overnight. Newtok is one of several villages in Alaska in dire need of relocation due to erosion and sinking ground.

Water levels in many flooded villages are not expected to drop until Monday, and in some cases Tuesday. The timing of the storm is particularly difficult, with winter on the horizon. The village of Shaktoolik lost its sea berm to the storm, which leaves it vulnerable to additional winter storms. The village of Chevak lost much of its fishing fleet when boats sank or were damaged in the storm.

We really have two seasons in Alaska: Winter, and Preparing for Winter. Preparing for winter in Western Alaska is now going to be a huge challenge.


Summer ’22 Wrap-up

Data credit: ACCAP; Graphic credit: @AlaskaWx

The Lower 48 remains caught up in the heat of summer, but autumn has taken hold in Alaska. The seasonal graphic that AlaskaWx puts together is a review that I always enjoy, so I’m sharing it here.

Weather-wise, Alaska was all over the map this past summer. Fairbanks had one of our driest summers on record, while Anchorage had a top three driest June, only to then see a top three wettest August.

Toolik Lake had snow in July, while Denali Park saw the white stuff accumulate in August.

The Southeast had an early heatwave, and Cold Bay saw a record early first freeze.

Overall, Alaska has seen 3.11 million acres burn to wildfire, which is the seventh largest burn season since 1950.


A very dry June

Map by @Climatologist49

The months of May and June in 2022 were the driest, statewide, on record. The period of January through June was the fifth warmest on record. Amazing, considering the staggering amount of snow we had, up to New Year’s. The tap was simply shut off.

The Clear Fire; Photo credit: Alaska Fire Service

So far in the 2022 fire season, Alaska has seen 2.74 million acres burn. The Clear Fire, near Anderson, Alaska and the Clear Air Force Base, is now pushing 70,000 acres and is right up to the Space Force Base boundaries. It is one of three fires that account for most of the smoke driven towards Fairbanks.

Fires over 50,000 acres; Map credit: Alaska Fire Service

With the 2.74 million acres burned, we have passed the entire 2019 fire season, and 2022 is already the 8th largest season in acres burned.

Water drop over the Clear Fire; Photo credit: Alaska Fire Service

I included the final photo simply because I love the image. Kudos to the Fire Service Photographer who captured it.


Wildfire Update:

Current wildfires over 100,000 acres; Map credit: Alaska Fire Service

The state of Alaska currently has over 225 wildfires burning within its borders and over 1000 firefighters battling the blazes. So far this fire season, over 2 million acres have burned, which is the earliest date to hit that milestone in the past two decades.

Wildfire acreage; Graph credit: ACCAP

A red flag warning has been in effect throughout Interior Alaska, and fireworks were banned over the weekend. The Borough implemented a $1000 fine for anyone caught setting off fireworks, which did make for a relatively quiet 4th of July.

Nature ignored the fines however, as we have had a very active few days of lightning. Between June 28 and July 4th, the state had 25,000 strikes, and Tuesday alone saw another 4500 lightning strikes, which started 13 new wildfires.

I have not seen the final numbers for June, but the month was expected to contend with the driest Junes on record statewide. Which is saying something, as it’s a pretty big state.


Shades of 2004

ACRC Panorama Cam from UAF Campus

Fairbanks is smoked in. We have a wildfire 60 miles to the southwest and another about the same distance to the northwest. Both were started by lightning.

I went out for lunch today. Upon my return, I smelled like a campfire.

It’s thick.

PM2.5 Levels on Tuesday

The smoke is not as bad as in 2004, when over 6 million acres burned up across the state. That year, Fairbanks was within a ring of fire, and a change in the wind direction did very little for relief.

Still, it’s bad enough. On the plus side, I hear the pollen count is down, but that has never bothered me anyway. The forecast says we are a week away from any chance of rain.


Lat 65 Roundup

Lightning strikes on Monday; Map credit: AICC

After a lull in lightning strikes to start the season, the skies have been very luminous of late. Strikes across the state have been widespread since the weekend. Over 5600 strikes on Monday, with over 15,000 strikes for the three days of Sunday-Tuesday.

A wildfire started near the Dalton Highway and the Arctic Circle, which closed a popular campground there.

So far, over 1 million acres have burned in Alaska this season, which is the earliest we have crossed that threshold in many decades. At least since 1969, Alaska has not seen 1 million acres burn by this date. Records were a bit sketchier back then, as recording acres burned in rural Alaska is a bit challenging.

Fairbanks hit 80F for the first time this season on the Solstice.

As of Monday, Alaska had seen 289 wildfires this season.

Smoke rolling in on Wednesday night


Smoke moving in

Western Alaska wildfires; Image credit: UAF/GINA

Most of the wildfires burning in Alaska right now are near the coast, but smoke from those fires have finally made its way into Interior Alaska. The sun was a bright orange pumpkin on Sunday morning.

The largest wildfire right now is the East Fork Fire near the community of St Marys. At 122,000 acres burned, it is the largest tundra fire since 2007, and the second largest in the past 40 years. St Marys is being evacuated, and the fire is now threatening other communities. The fire was started by lightning.

BLM/AFS Situational Report; Graphic credit: BLM/AFS

According to the BLM and Alaska Fire Service, Alaska has seen 314,057 acres burned so far this fire season. That is particularly note worthy, since it is already more than the entire season in 2020 and 2021.

As for the Interior, Fairbanks has now gone 25 days without measurable rainfall. It is a rare summer dry streak, as we have only seen two years with more: 1947 (28 days) and 1957 (26 days).


Round Island wildfire

A smoke jumper spotter watches the Round Island fire from the air; Photo credit: BLM Alaska Fire Service

A wildfire started up on Round Island out in the Aleutians. The fire was started by staff from a Fish & Game campsite, when they used a burn barrel. The dry grass caught quickly, and spread from there. The Alaska Division of Forestry sent an air tanker and six smoke jumpers from Fairbanks to contain the blaze. By the time the fire was contained, approximately 40 acres of the 720 acre island had burned.

Walrus beachcombers of Round Island

Round Island is one of four major pull out locations for Pacific walrus in Alaska, and the island is a part of the Walrus Islands State Game Sanctuary. As many as 14,000 male walruses haul out on Round Island in a given day.

Like Brooks Falls, the folks at explore.org have a Walrus Cam on Round Island. The soothing sound of waves can be experienced, with the constant baritone grunts of the male walruses jockeying for the most comfortable spot on the beach.

A link to the Walrus Cam:

https://explore.org/livecams/oceans/walrus-cam-round-island


Alaska Time

A landslide across Lowell Point Road, outside Seward, Alaska

A landslide blocked Lowell Point Road in Seward over the weekend. Workers began to cautiously clear the road on Monday. Lowell Point is outside Seward, and the narrow gravel road follows the shoreline of Resurrection Bay out to the point, where there are several campgrounds, lodges, resorts and B&B’s. It’s a pretty area, dominated by the beauty of Resurrection Bay. As of Tuesday, there were at least 40 cars trapped on the “wrong” side of the landslide. No word on how many travelers, who were trying to get out to Lowell Point, and now can not get to their destination.

The landslide view from the air

This post is less about the landslide, and more about giving yourself extra time when visiting Alaska, and accepting the unexpected.

This is Alaska, after all.

I’ve seen a lot of complaints online about the slide from tourists, and I know several housing accommodations have taken some flack for the road closure. No matter where you are in Alaska, and this includes Los Anchorage, you are never very far from wilderness. That is the main draw of the place.

Our infrastructure is minimal when compared with the Lower 48. Many communities have one way in and one way out. In my time in Alaska, I’ve probably seen it all: Roads closed from landslides, wash outs, beaver dams, ornery moose and/or grizzly, avalanche and wildfires. Flights delayed or rushed because of blizzards, volcanic eruptions, and pilot strikes. Sometimes, all you can do is take a deep breath, open a cold refreshment, and chill out for a day… or two…

We all have deadlines, but sometimes we find ourselves dealing with forces that have no interest in flight departures. So, if you visit Alaska, by all means, get out and explore the state, but leave the time planner at home. Enjoy both the view and the ride.


Fire Season

Alaska smokejumpers land among the muskox

Luckily, we have not had a bad wildfire season in Alaska for 2021. We did have a fire flare up close to Fairbanks late last week, when smokejumpers, seen above, landed at UAF’s LARS location, where the herd of muskox can be seen roaming the hills. From the muskox field, the smokejumpers hiked the half mile to the fire’s location. That fire was quickly under control, and the firefighters went back to the Munson Creek fire soon after they were dispatched.

With just under 180,000 acres burned within the state so far this season, it puts us roughly equal with 2020 and within the lowest range of burned area since 2008. The Interior remains in a burn ban, but historically, 2/3 of acreage within a season has burned by July 15.

Figures,facts, graphics and video all from the Alaska Division of Forestry