'We Dodged A Bullet,' Says NWS Hydrologist As Ice Moves, Dropping Kuskokwim Flood Risk

May 4, 2020

Kuskokwim River breakup in front of Bethel, Alaska on the evening of May 3, 2020.
Credit Katie Basile / KYUK

The Kuskokwim River has largely cleared itself of in-place ice, greatly reducing the chances of flooding along the river, according to National Weather Service hydrologist Celine Van Breukelen. She’s flying with the River Watch crew, monitoring breakup conditions along the Kuskokwim.

“We dodged a bullet," she said after surveying the river on May 4. The ice jam below Napaimute released just before midnight on May 3. By then, the ice downstream had been able to soften and begin moving.

The news comes after days of communities being under a NWS flood watch, and after weeks of preparing flood evacuation plans.

As of the afternoon of May 4, Van Breukelen said that only one small ice jam remained on the lower river just upstream of Tuluksak near Bogus Creek. Ice also remains between McGrath and Stony River. Van Breukelen said that this ice is a boating hazard and not a flood threat.

Van Breukelen also reported seeing the loose barge floating down the Kuskokwim. On the afternoon of May 4, she spotted it downstream of Kalskag, near Coffee’s Bend.

Alaska Logistics Company owns the barge. It’s loaded with rip rap, or basketball sized rocks and was bound for Red Devil when it became frozen into the river near Aniak last fall. It’s been making its way downriver since the ice broke. River residents hope that it doesn’t capsize, dump its load, and block the river channel.

On May 5, the Kuskokwim River Watch crew will fly its final flight of the season.