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McGrath ice tripod falls as breakup inches down the Kuskokwim

Breakup continues to inch down the Kuskokwim and Yukon Rivers.

On the Kuskokwim, the McGrath ice tripod fell on Wednesday (May 1) at 1:55 p.m. – around three days earlier than its recent breakup average. Downriver, ice has shifted in several communities, including Crooked Creek, Sleetmute and Napaimute.

Kyle Van Peursem is a hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Anchorage. He spoke on a weekly community breakup call for the Kuskokwim River on April 29. He said it’s early – there’s still lots of snow to melt and ice to degrade downriver, but it’s been a pretty moderate breakup process so far.

“In terms of breakup flood severity, we are concerned from pretty much Sleetmute, Stony River down past Crooked Creek and down to Aniak for potential for more of a dynamic breakup,” Van Peursem said. “It's not looking as bad as it was last year. Our melt has been a little bit more prolonged, it started a little bit earlier. The ice isn't as thick as it was last year. We still have a lot of snow, though. So we are – I don't think anyone's out of the woods yet for ice jams and breakup flooding.”

Temperatures in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta have been slightly above average, but lows are still hitting around freezing. Van Peursem said the lack of abrupt changes in temperature helps measure out the melting and lessen the potential for flooding.

Community observers report that sloughs and tributary rivers have started to open up across the Kuskokwim system, although lower-river communities still have fairly solid mainstem river ice.

It’s a similar case on the Yukon River, where some upper-river communities are seeing ice movement and many tributaries and sloughs are open.

With near-record snowpack in cross-border Yukon communities, RiverWatch officials say there are concerns about both ice jam flooding and the snowmelt floods that can follow for many Yukon communities.

State emergency operations officials emphasize the importance of reviewing community and personal preparedness plans in case of ice jam flooding – encompassing everything from communication systems to making sure fuel and drinking water are stored securely in case river levels rise.

RiverWatch flights started Wednesday (May 1), with federal hydrologists and meterologists flying from Bethel to monitor conditions and consult with river communities throughout the Delta.

Join in to the Kuskokwim and Yukon community breakup calls – 10 a.m. on Mondays for the Kuskokwim and 10 a.m. on Tuesdays for the Yukon – by calling 1-866-203-1705, with participant code 1145901.

Sage Smiley is KYUK's news director.
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