Winter Storm Batters Western Alaska Coast, Taking Out Power And Sea Ice

Nov 27, 2019

Bethel lost power late Monday night.
Credit Courtesy of Rick Garcia

A big winter storm came in from the Bering Sea and battered the Western Alaska coast from the evening of Nov. 25 through Nov. 26. Some communities, like Hooper Bay, have reported flooding. Others have reported power outages. 

There’s no cellphone service in Kotlik, which is on Norton Sound, after 65 mile-per-hour winds knocked out power to the village on the night of Nov. 25. Philomena Keyes works for the Kotlik Tribe.

"We cannot call cellphone to landline or cellphone to cellphone. We can’t dial out, but we’re able to get phone calls in," Keyes said.

The airport lights at the Kotlik runway are also out, preventing planes from landing. Keyes said that people were collecting coffee cans to fill with oil for lights to guide the planes, but the airstrip is on one side of the slough that divides the village and the man who maintains the strip is on the other. High tides are preventing him from coming over to plow the runway, which means planes can’t land regardless of the light situation. The Alaska Village Electric Co-op is trying to send a lineman over to restore power.

Keyes said that people were stranded in other villages, and the high tides were still coming in.

"We’re expecting 4 to 6 feet over the high tide line," Keyes said.

The storms took out the power from Bethel to Napakiak on the night of Nov. 25. Three linemen and a meterman from AVEC were out in the rain and wind early on Nov. 26, restoring power to Bethel and the nearby village of Oscarville. Napakiak is still relying on generators. The village owns the line that connects it to Bethel and is responsible for repairing and inspecting it.

Hooper Bay has experienced some flooding. According to Edgar Smith, who works in maintenance, there’s little to no damage. Meanwhile, the storm is passing over villages below Hooper Bay. Residents in Toksook Bay indicated that flooding is ongoing, but no damage was reported. In Newtok, high waters and rain sank several boats, but there has not been any reported damage to homes.

Alaska climatologist Rick Thoman says that this storm isn’t unusual.

"We certainly didn’t have this last year, but in 2017 we saw multiple storms like this," Keyes said.

Warming temperatures mean that storms are having a bigger impact.

"So this, of course, will not help us form sea ice at all. In fact, in the Bering Sea there’s going to be a loss of what sea ice had formed," Thoman said.

That means the shorelines have less protection against erosion, and communities along the coast or near a river will continue to see flooding from very high tides.