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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.
Brent Saas, in his seventh Iditarod, won the 2022 race. He crossed under the famed burled arch in Nome early Tuesday morning. Local temps were hovering around zero. It was the first Iditarod win for Sass. Five time winner, Dallas Seavey came in second. A win would have given Seavey a record sixth title, but Sass, who ran a phenomenal race, held on for the victory.
Brent Sass first ran the Iditarod in 2012, winning rookie of the year when he came in 13th. Sass has won the Yukon Quest three times.
Images credit: Alaska Public Media
Bering Sea ice is at its highest level this late in the season since 2013. Which is good news for Alaska in 2022. Not only does the extended sea ice help out our wildlife, but it offers protection for communities like Nome from fierce winter storms.
The Iditarod Sled Dog Race will go back to a normal route in 2022, and finish in Nome for its 50th running. Last year, the race was a “there and back”, and did not venture into the historic gold rush city.
The Iditarod will require mushers to be vaccinated for the anniversary race. Even with the vaccination requirement, the usual checkpoint at Takotna, will not take place, as the community has decided not to host the checkpoint this year due to pandemic concerns.
It should be noted that the Iditarod race commemorates the 1925 “Great Race of Mercy”, when several teams of dogs and their mushers relayed the diphtheria serum to Nome to combat an epidemic.
The Iditarod is scheduled to start the first weekend of March.
Mostly used out of Nome on the Seward Peninsula, the pupmobile, was a small railroad car that was pulled by a team of dogs. It was common practice in the first 2-3 decades of the 1900’s, as most of the railroad tracks had been abandoned, and sled dogs were the main mode of transportation.