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A slow breakup upriver is good news for communities all along the Kuskokwim

Kuskokwim river below Aniak
Emily Schwing
Signs of breakup below Aniak on the Kuskokwim River were clear from the air during a flight Sunday with the RiverWatch team.

A River Watch team spent much of the weekend viewing breakup conditions along the Kuskokwim River from the air. According to Celine van Breukelen, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service, the news is mostly good.

During a conference call on May 1, she said that the biggest change along the river so far is just below Aniak.

“The Aniak River pushed out about a week or so ago and it has more open water,” she said. “And you could see between Aniak and the Crow Village area, there were some shifted sheets of ice and some pressure ridges forming.”

Van Breukelen said that the upcoming weather forecast predicts temperatures below freezing at night, which means that the breakup process will be slow. “That is good from a flood perspective, because that’s going to slow down the snow melt and really just give the ice that’s in the channel a chance to degrade,” she said.

Water levels are low throughout the Kuskokwim River right now. From Tuluksak downstream and past Bethel to Napakiak, the color of the river ice indicates that the ice is rotting. “Ice downstream of Tuluksak is working pretty hard on mushing out,” said van Breukelen. “It’s noticeably darker. It’s really degrading in place before any sort of an upstream push.”

Upstream of Aniak, the ice remains solid white in color and there is still significant snowpack in the hills and on the river at Sleetmute. Animal tracks visible on the Holitna River above Sleetmute indicate that there is still significant snowpack that will need to melt off before the ice there can melt in earnest.