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Spring storm nearly breaks 45-year record for wind gust speed in Bethel

A National Weather Service weather analysis map from around 10 p.m., the time of the peak wind in Bethel on April 15, 2024.
National Weather Service, Anchorage
A National Weather Service weather analysis map from around 10 p.m., the time of the peak wind in Bethel on April 15, 2024.

At around 10 p.m. on April 15, Bethel’s airport weather station recorded a blistering peak wind speed of 68 miles per hour.

“That for any time of the year is strong, much less for a non-winter month,” said University of Alaska Fairbanks climatologist Rick Thoman. In fact, Thoman said it’s the highest wind gust speed recorded in Bethel in a non-winter month since data started being recorded 45 years ago.

“This is right up there with the highest wind speeds in the last four-and-a-half decades,” Thoman said. And it’s only 3 miles per hour below the all-time recorded wind speed record for the city, 71 miles per hour.

Thoman said that the rest of the region had a blustery night as well, but not quite like Bethel.

“While everybody was quite breezy, Bethel certainly takes the cake for the highest reported wind gusts that I've been able to find so far,” Thoman said. “Nothing else was even really close. Few other places of peak winds were a little over 50 miles an hour, but nothing even to 60 [mph].”

To some extent, of course, Thoman said the high measurement at the Bethel Airport is a function of where there happens to be wind equipment. It’s not possible to say it was the highest gust in the whole region on Monday evening. But it’s still impressive.

“Wind speeds above 65 miles an hour even for gusts, I mean, that's pretty windy for low elevations in the Kuskokwim Delta, for sure,” Thoman said.

One interesting factor, he said, is that the windstorm didn’t come from one single storm center.

“The storm itself was completely unremarkable, as far as the intensity of the low-pressure center,” he said.

It appears that a storm over the Bering Sea combined with strong high pressure over the Gulf of Alaska, winds out of the south and winds off the Kilbuck Mountains put Bethel in the middle of … a perfect storm.

“Some of it is just Bethel’s bad luck,” Thoman said. “It could have been winds like that upriver or downriver a little ways, or on the coast. But Bethel just happened to be in the place where all of those factors came together.”

He continued: “It just goes to show that when all the ingredients come together, you can get these kind of out-of-season unexpected events. And this, of course, can happen anywhere.”

The strong wind blew KYUK’s arctic entry door off its hinges, but Bethel’s volunteer Fire Department, Police Department and city government all said they hadn’t received any other reports of damage from the storm as of midday Tuesday.

Thoman said Bethel can still expect breezy conditions in the more typical 10-20 mile-per-hour range in the coming days, but likely nothing else record-breaking.

Sage Smiley is KYUK's news director.