I’ve been out at Poker Flats, which is outside Fairbanks, on several occasions when they were launching weather balloons. These days, most weather balloons are filled and launched by robotic launchers called autosondes, which takes some of the romance out of weather balloons, but that’s not the purpose of this post.
In the United States alone, there are 92 sites that launch two balloons every day of the year. There are over 800 locations worldwide doing the exact same thing. Here in Alaska, we have 13 sites that launch weather balloons twice a day, every day, and always at the same time: Midnight and noon Greenwich Mean Time.
A small collection of weather instruments, called a radiosonde is attached to the balloon which collects data and transmits that data back to the NWS as it rises. A weather balloon makes it to roughly 100,000 feet before it pops and falls back to earth. These days, radio balloons are highly biodegradable.
The first weather balloon with a radiosonde launched from Fairbanks in 1933. They started launching two balloons a day in 1941. I’ll let you do the math, but no matter how you figure it, that’s a lot of balloons.
A deep freeze swept over much of Interior Alaska this week. Not only was Chicken the cold spot in the state with a low of -57F, their high ended up being only -50F. They hold the spot as the first location in Alaska to officially see a high of minus fifty or colder this season.
By comparison, the thermometer outside the cabin read a balmy -33F Monday 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.
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.
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.