Communities brace for historic Fall storm
A massive storm is projected to hit Alaska on Sept. 16. Along the coast, wind gusts could get up to 85 miles per hour and the National Weather Service has issued coastal flood warnings.
On the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta coast, communities are getting ready. For example, villages are helping residents move boats to higher elevations. Some have identified shelters in case people need to evacuate their homes.
In Kwigillingok, the school has opened as an emergency shelter, according to the school’s Facebook page. If needed, residents there could also evacuate to the nearby community of Kongiganak.
Emergency response planner Paul A. Paul in Kongiganak said that the village is also preparing the school as a possible evacuation center. Most homes in Kongiganak are on a hill. Paul said that he’s more worried about Kwigillingok.
“Kwigillingok, a nearby village, I think they should be really concerned about the flooding portion,” said Paul.
Kwigillingok has recently been dealing with tidal flooding that has put the entire village underwater.
Kwigillingok Tribal Administrator Tiffany Daniel said that the village is monitoring the storm.
Further north in Toksook Bay, the city's mayor said that they’ve identified three shelters in case residents need to leave their homes due to structural damage.
The storm is set to be strongest overnight, with the fastest winds between midnight and 2 a.m.
Meteorologist Kaitlyn O’Brien said that it’s the strongest September storm in Alaska in about two decades. It’s the strongest September storm since 2005 since tracking of storms like this began.
“This is a significant storm,” O’Brien said. “Generally we see our stronger storms in the winter months, but that’s what makes this particular storm a little bit different and a little bit more unusual.”
There’s a coastal flood warning in effect for the Kuskokwim Delta coast that starts tonight and lasts through 4 p.m. on Sept. 17. O’Brien said that water levels on the coast could be 5 feet to 8 feet above the regular high tide.
O'Brien said that the National Weather Service is also expecting hurricane force winds along the coast, where gusts are expected to reach 85 miles per hour.
Inland, around Bethel, gusts could get up to 65 miles per hour and cause minor flooding in Brown’s Slough.
The National Weather Service also anticipates minor to moderate flooding in Napakiak. The storm could further erode the community’s shoreline, which has been rapidly falling into the Kuskokwim River for years. Napakiak has developed a plan to move the entire community away from the eroding riverbank. The community has been moving buildings away from the waterline for decades as the shoreline has eroded and is working to retreat the entire community from the riverbank.
O’Brien said that this storm is the remnants of Typhoon Murbok, which has now moved into the Bering Sea.
Claude Denver is the response manager with Alaska’s Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. He said that while this is a big storm, communities have experienced storms this large in other months before and can use that experience to prepare.
“So we always encourage people, 'Remember the last time you had a huge storm, what did you do? You know, when your boats were swamped because they were right on the shoreline, you moved them and they’re okay now.' We want people go back into their knowledge base and figure out what they can do to lessen the impact of this event,” said Denver.
Denver suggested that communities find people most at risk, like Elders and folks with medical issues, and make sure that they’re safe.
“In some instances, some of the folks who live closest to the waterline are the most medically fragile and maybe this is the time to take steps to move them to a place that’s much more secure and safe,” Denver said.
Denver said that it’s a good idea to prepare for a power outage and to collect drinking water in extra containers. He also said that it’s important to secure loose items and boats.
“Look out for families with small children. If you have folks that are out hunting or going to go out hunting, maybe this is time for you to take a step back from that until the storm passes,” Denver said.
Both the National Weather Service and state emergency management said that individuals are welcome to update them with any serious storm damage they see. The departments said that information helps with data collection and with decisions on where to send resources.
The National Weather Service encourages people to continue to check in for updates.