Weather permitting, we are looking at some phenomenal aurora viewing over the next few nights. Halloween weekend also looks to be quite good for viewing.
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Lost in the excitement and drama of Fat Bear Week, was the story of how two Russian nationals crossed the Bering Sea in a boat, landed on St Lawrence Island, and turned themselves in to authorities in Gambell, Alaska. The two men were seeking asylum in order to escape Putin’s War in Ukraine.
Gambell, Alaska, population 600, is actually much closer to the coast of Russia, than it is to Nome, which is 200 miles away. The two Russian men were flown to Anchorage.
The incident adds to the drama going on between Alaska and Russia. Russian military aircraft have been veering into Alaska airspace for several years now, and recently, the USCG followed a flotilla of Chinese and Russian naval ships out of the Aleutian Islands.
…still packed quite the punch.
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.
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.
Even though Alaska had a warm and very dry start to summer, the state has not seen 90F yet. although some recording stations have hit 89F. A few northern locations in the Yukon and Northwest Territories broke the 90 degree mark, but none in Alaska.
According to NOAA’s extended outlook, the entire Lower 48 is forecast to have above average temperatures, while the entire state of Alaska is forecast to see below average temps. I’m curious as to how often that happens.
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.
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.
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.
I included the final photo simply because I love the image. Kudos to the Fire Service Photographer who captured it.
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.
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.
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.
A couple of weeks ago, I posted about the swarm of earthquakes underneath Mount Edgecumbe. The numbers are in, and radar satellite data reveals a ground deformation around the volcano. Data was analyzed for the past 7.5 years, and since 2018, an uplift around Mt Edgecumbe has been constant. The peak activity, around the crater, has shown an average uplift of 3.4″ per year since 2018, and a total uplift of 10.6″.
With the data of the ground deformation, AVO has come to the conclusion that the swarm of earthquakes is due to the movement of magma below Mount Edgecumbe, and not due to tectonic activity.
Mount Edgecumbe, a 3200 foot high stratovolcano, lies 15 miles to the west of the community of Sitka. There is no volcanic monitoring system on Edgecumbe, but there is at Sitka. AVO plans to install instruments closer to the volcano in the near future.
The rising of magma under a volcano does not necessarily mean that an eruption is imminent. The deformation and earthquakes could cease at any time. If an eruption were to occur, warning signs such as increased rate of deformation, and an increase in the earthquake swarms, would give advance warning of an eruption.