It’s the time of year where we all watch the rivers up here. Break-up in Fairbanks has lost the drama it had in the early days, before the flood control tamed the Chena River. There was a time when the Cushman Street bridge was rebuilt every year after the ice took it out.
Elsewhere across Alaska, the shifting ice still packs a punch. The ice jam in the above photo has caused flooding 90 miles upstream. Tanana, Alaska has experienced minor flooding from this. Communities all along the Yukon, from Eagle to Buckland have experienced severe flooding.
The Kobuk River has been added to the flood stage list. An ice jam could bring flooding from Kobuk to Ambler if the ice doesn’t break up soon.
In Fairbanks, we saw our first 80F degree day this season on Friday. It broke a record for not just the high temp of the day, but also broke a record for the highest low temperature for the day. It was the earliest 60F degree low on record for Fairbanks. It was certainly noticeable when I went out in the morning.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
A severe washout has taken out both lanes of the Alaska Highway in British Columbia, just short of the border with the Yukon Territory. The location of the closure is between Liard Hot Springs and Watson Lake. Judging by the size of the ditch, repairs may take a while. No immediate detour is available.
Travelers will have to make a route change early if they want to continue on to Watson Lake and/or Alaska, or do some serious back-tracking. The alternative is the very scenic Stewart-Cassiar Highway, also known as Highway 37. It’s a beautiful route, but more remote. I recommend bringing extra gas.
No one was surprised to hear the National Weather Service issuing flood watches and warnings throughout Alaska’s Interior this past weekend. With a Top Ten Snowfall this past winter, we have been readying for the coming melt.
Manley Hot Springs is one of the first communities to come under water. An ice dam on the Tanana River has caused water to back up into Manley. As of Sunday morning, as many as 75 residents in the lower areas of the town had been displaced, many of which were seeking shelter in the Manley Hot Springs Lodge.
Reports have ice starting to move on the Tanana, which would alleviate the flooding.
A Flood Watch had been issued for Eagle on the Yukon River, as well as Hughes on the Koyukuk. Ice now appears to be moving on both rivers and those two watches have been cancelled as of Sunday afternoon.
Temperatures for the coming week are going to dip down into the low to mid 40’s F for highs, with a (relatively) rare chance of May snow for Fairbanks. Even though we are all ready for summer and its warmer temps, a slow melt would be a good thing.
The southwestern village of Kwigillingok, which lies on the Bering Sea coast, within the vast Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, is seeing some of the worst flooding anyone can remember. Flooding is not rare at Kwigillingok, but the severity of Friday’s high tide has reached a new threshold.
Buildings within the village are on pilings, so water did not breach any structures, but time does not appear to be on the village’s side.
The melting permafrost is causing land subsidence, which has made the village very susceptible to flooding, especially at high tide. The flooding then speeds up the melting of the permafrost even more, causing a harsh cycle.
Several homes are slated to be moved due to the threat of erosion, but the entire village is now contemplating a move to higher ground.
The images from the Houston area leave one awestruck, and emotionally raw. For someone in the subarctic, 50 inches of rain from one storm is simply hard to fathom.
Fairbanks has seen its own floods, and I’ve written here before of the ’67 Flood, but the devastation in the Houston area is massive, and the recovery will be long and drawn out.
Still, there is hope. Numerous stories are coming out of the area showing the kindness and bravery of strangers helping strangers. We do seem to save our very best for times of disaster.
When it comes to aid organizations, I have no idea which ones get the most bang for the buck, or which ones have the highest “internal expenses”. I did see a post from JJ Watt, the All-Pro defenseman for the Houston Texans. His foundation has a track record of helping people out in their time of need. I posted his video above, and his link will be below. In spite of the fact that Watt is a former Badger, I’m guessing this son of a firefighter will get some bang out of the bucks donated.
Extreme flooding has overtaken the Dalton Hwy just south of Deadhorse, prompting the DOT to close the highway north of milepost 375. At some locations, over two feet of water is flowing over the road.
This is the second time this year that the Sagavanirktok River has forced the closing of the Dalton. In March, river overflow sent water and ice over the road, forcing its closure.
There is no time frame for the road to reopen. The river is expected to crest in four days, meaning the “Haul Road” may be closed at least a week.
I have already seen several early tourists on motorcycles coming back from the Dalton. I was wondering if they tried to make it to Deadhorse, considering the amount of mud packed onto their bikes. Now it looks like they wouldn’t have had to ride very far to collect all that mud.
The Dalton is an interesting road. I’ve driven up it when I needed four wheel drive for a hundred or more miles, and you couldn’t tell what color the truck was when I was done. I’ve also driven it in the Beetle, when we simply cruised the entire way and only sent clouds of dust in the air behind us.