An ice jam is holding downstream of Napaimute, flooding the seasonal village. At Aniak, the ice is shifting, according to Aniak resident Dave Cannon. Cannon described the Kuskokwim ice shifting in front of the village during KYUK’s afternoon river update on April 30. He narrated as a huge ice pan moved downstream with six pressure ridges on it, and large chunks of ice were flowing down Aniak Slough.
While Cannon was talking, a big chunk of ice started to climb the dike along the community. Aniak has reinforced the dike to help it survive breakup, although it is not designed to keep water out. Cannon later noted that the ice chunk looked like it was about to break up. He also said that there was a lot of driftwood in the ice.
Sleetmute and Crooked Creek seem to have escaped any major flooding this year, although there are still some ice dams above Stony River. The last big flood in Aniak occured in 2002. Cannon said that conditions this year are looking similar to what he remembered from back then, and that the community was about to have some “interesting times.”
The National Weather Service began flying its annual River Watch crew along the Kuskokwim on April 30. Hydrologist Celine Van Breukelen was in the plane and warned all Kuskokwim communities to prepare for flooding.
“I’ve been flying River Watch for the past nine years, and I haven’t seen water this high. Especially not associated with a breakup front,” she said.
That high water, combined with this year’s thick ice, increases the likelihood for flooding. River ice shoved onto shore in Kalskag this week measured 3 feet thick. If the ice jams, the river doesn’t have any room to absorb the water that pools behind it. And there’s still more water coming down.
“There’s still a lot of local snow that needs to melt in the upper Kusko,” Van Breukelen noted.
On April 29, Van Breukelen said that she saw high water flowing through the Kuskokwim River tributaries and filling the surrounding lakes. She also reported open water upstream of Napaimute. Between Aniak and Lower Kalskag, she reported shifting ice and some open water. From Lower Kalskag to Bethel, she reported strong, in-place ice.
Van Breukelen advised river residents to prepare for flooding by creating an evacuation plan, securing loose items around the house, and moving valuable items like snowmachines to higher ground.
To share river conditions along the Kuskokwim, everyone is asked to add their river photos and observations to the Facebook page “Kuskokwim River Ice and Road Conditions Winter 2020.”
River Watch is flying the Kuskokwim this week and is broadcasting over the VHF radio:
- Upper River (Crooked Creek, Red Devil, Sleetmute, Stony River): Channel 10
- Middle River (Aniak, Kalskag, Chuathbaluk, Napaimute): Channel 68
- Lower River (Tuluksak to the Johnson River): Hail on Channel 68, give report on Channel 22
River Watch is then holding a wrap-up phone call after they land at 7 p.m. each evening.
- Phone Number: (443) 650-8981
- PIN: 969 835 232#
Correction: The original story said the ice jam downstream of Napaimute broke free on April 30. That information is incorrect. The ice jam was still holding as of midnight on April 30.