Though The River Has Opened In Front Of Bethel, Breakup Is Far From Over On The Kuskokwim

May 4, 2018

The Kuskokwim River downstream of Kalskag on May 2, 2018.
Credit National Weather Service

Bethel is celebrating its Breakup Bash tonight; boats are already cruising the river between Bethel and Kwethluk; and more boats are expected to head out this weekend. But that does not mean that breakup is over. The water Bethel is seeing is just one open segment of a river still full of significant ice cover.

Mark Leary flew the river on Thursday and reports that there are still over 100 miles of ice yet to come downriver towards Bethel.

"We have a long ways to go yet," Leary said. "Breakup is not over."

Ice continues to hold from Aniak downriver to Akiachak. The open water in front of Bethel begins just below Akiachak and extends a couple miles below Oscarville at Clark’s Slough. From there, ice takes over the river again and extends to the Gaelic River, about 20 miles below the Johnson River. Leary advises travelers to take precaution.

“If you’re boating, make sure you carry what you need if you have to stay out for a few days if the ice passes by,” Leary warned.

And that could happen at any time. Darren Deacon in Kalskag says that the ice near his village made a long jolt, moving like a restless sleeper on Thursday. Just before midnight, his cousin who lives by the riverbank gave Deacon a call. He said that he could hear the river “grumbling.”

“So we got the kids ready and rushed down, and everybody was down at the beach by then and it had stopped," Deacon said. "But it had shifted about 400 to 500 feet.”

Further downriver, Tuluksak also saw the ice shift on Thursday night. Willie Phillips lives in the village and saw the water rise several feet.

“The low areas are filling up any point that’s up over two or three feet from yesterday [Thursday],” he said.

As of Friday morning, Phillips says that the water has dropped at least two feet from Thursday night.

In the Kuskokwim headwaters by McGrath, Nicholas Snow reports that the ice has not begun to shift, but has started popping up from the shore edge.

“It looks pretty solid," Snow said."And what we mean by solid is there’s no shifting room. There ain’t that much ice.”

The ice froze a thin 27 inches this winter. Because of that, Snow doesn’t expect flooding from breakup, but he’s lived on the Kuskokwim his entire life and has been surprised before.

“We never know what the river is going to bring and what the weather is going to bring," Snow said. "Every spring is different.”

Bethel’s Breakup Bash begins at 5 p.m. on the riverfront this evening. There will be live music, dancing, and, of course, hot dogs.