Western Alaska prepares for massive storm

Kyle Hopkins,Casey Grove,Mike Dunham
Location: Nome, Ak, 11/09/11 Dry Creek flooded from the incoming tidal surge
Photo courtesy of David Okitkon / ADN reader submission
Location: Nome, Ak, 11/09/11 Dry Creek flooding from incoming tidal surge
Photo courtesy of David Okitkon / ADN reader submission
Location: Golovin, 11/09/11
Photo courtesy of Julie Olson / ADN reader submission
Location: Tunnuak Ak, Nov 12 2011 Tununak waves west wind at 30 gusting at 60 knots
Photo courtesy of Mr Usugan / ADN reader submission
Location: Quinhagak, Ak, 11/12/2011 After Midnite Coastal flood.
Photo courtesy of Joe / ADN reader submission
Location: Tununak Ak, Nov 12 ,2011 big waves , west wind at 30 gusting at 50 to 60 knots
Photo courtesy of Mr Usugan / ADN reader submission
Location: Tununak Ak, Nov 12 ,2011 big waves , west wind at 30 gusting at 50 to 60 knots
Photo courtesy of Mr Usugan / ADN reader submission
Location: Tununak Ak, Nov 12 ,2011 west wind gusting at 45 to 60 knots
Photo courtesy of Mr Usugan / ADN reader submission
Location: Togiak Alaska, 10am, November 12, 2011 Hurricane force winds in Togiak the night of the 11th of November, 2011.
Photo courtesy of Melson Forbes / ADN reader submission
Location: Togiak Alaska, 10am, November 12, 2011 a neighbor's building rolled into another little house
Photo courtesy of Melson Forbes / ADN reader submission
A rare, extremely powerful winter storm hit northwestern Alaska on November 8 and 9, 2011, bringing hurricane-force winds, high seas, and heavy snow. Nome, the largest community affected by the storm, was buffeted by winds gusting to 66 miles per hour and a 10-foot storm surge. The National Weather Service reported wind gusts up to 85 miles per hour in Wales, northwest of Nome. Coastal flood warnings were still in effect throughout northwest Alaska on November 10.
Location: Shaktoolik, AK, 11/09/11 Anikan and Kiya looking to the flooded area's on the river side of Shaktoolik; taken at 12:45pm;
Photo courtesy of Gloria Andrew / ADN reader submission
Location: Shaktoolik, AK, 11/09/11 taken at 11:13am on the coast of Shaktoolik, AK
Photo courtesy of Gloria Andrew / ADN reader submission
Location: Shaktoolik, AK, 11/09/11 shows the ocean waves crashing onto the banks and wood pile behind the Shaktoolik School at 12:25pm
Photo courtesy of Gloria Andrew / ADN reader submission
Location: Shaktoolik, AK, 11/09/11 taken at 11:13am on the coast of Shaktoolik when high tides were coming in.
Photo courtesy of Gloria Andrew / ADN reader submission
Location: Tununak Ak, nov 9 , 2011 this is the road going to air port you can see how bad it is when it's long gone cant across it to go see the planes
Photo courtesy of Mr Usugan / ADN reader submission
A fishing boat that sank in a boat harbor is shown in Nome Nov. 10, 2011. A massive storm that battered Alaska's western coast with hurricane-strength winds and towering sea surges has passed out of the region in a much weaker state, leaving behind widespread damage and a missing man who may have been swept out to a churning sea.
Peggy Fagerstrom / AP2011
Standing water on the city side of Nome's seawall created a small whirlpool (foreground) on Wednesday afternoon, as increasingly strong waves continued to batter the coast (background).
Photo by Matthew Smith / KNOM Radio Mission
By mid-day Wednesday, November 9, 2011, chunks of ice had built up near the mouth of Nome's Snake River.
Photo by Ben Matheson / KNOM Radio Mission
Location: Tununak Ak, Mr Usugan this is road is going to the air port and you can see is really bad i think it have few more years or less , the high water reached the level and up and over the land
Photo courtesy of Mr Usugan / ADN reader submission
A rare, extremely powerful winter storm hit northwestern Alaska on November 8 and 9, 2011, bringing hurricane-force winds, high seas, and heavy snow. This satellite image was made November 8 as it approached Alaska's coastline.
NASA satellite image
This building on Nome's 1st Street took a beating during the storm. November 9, 2011
Photo by Rosa Schmidt / KNOM Radio Mission
On Wednesday afternoon, November 9, 2011, water levels continued to rise at Nome's port/harbor area.
Photo by David Dodman / KNOM Radio Mission
Location: White Mountain, AK, 11/09/11 Honuk Lincoln, his son B-Boy, and Dean Pushruk working to move boats to safety as the Fish River's level rose.
Photo courtesy of Joanna Wassillie / ADN reader submission
Some owners of small planes used trucks for protection from the big storm that hit Nome and other parts of western Alaska. No planes were seen flipped in Nome after the first part of the storm moved through Wednesday, November 9, 2011.
Photo by Peggy Fagerstrom
Nome's city crew cleans downtown early Wednesday morning, November 9, 2011 after the first part of the storm moved through the area.
Peggy Fagerstrom
The sea water from the storm broke up the ice on the Snake River which flows through Nome. November 9, 2011.
Photo by Peggy Fagerstrom
Workers on the Little Diomede school project photographed the affects of the storm on Little Diomede Island mid-day Wednesday, November 9, 2011.
Levi McKay and Dave Ward / ASRC SKW ESKIMOS
Some houses had their roofs blown off during the November 9, 2011 storm in Nome, Alaska.
Photo by Peggy Fagerstrom
A couple stand in front of flooded River Street in west Nome while the waves crash against the seawall, Wednesday, November 9, 2011. A greater surge is expected later Wednesday night.
Photo by Peggy Fagerstrom
River Street is under water at 4pm on Wednesday, November 9, 2011 in west Nome after the first storm surge. Another, bigger surge is expected later Wednesday night.
Photo by Peggy Fagerstrom
The strong winds from the storm blew off the roof of an apartment building in Nome, Alaska. November 9, 2011.
Photo by Peggy Fagerstrom
Workers on the Little Diomede school project photographed the affects of the storm on Little Diomede Island mid-day Wednesday, November 9, 2011.
Levi McKay and Dave Ward / ASRC SKW ESKIMOS
Daniel Lockhart gets a good shot of the rough Bering Sea on Wednesday, November 9, 2011 in Nome.
Photo by Peggy Fagerstrom
River Street is flooded with ocean water as it flows into the harbor at 4pm on Wednesday, November 9, 2011 in west Nome, Alaska.
Photo by Peggy Fagerstrom
Workers on the Little Diomede school project photographed the affects of the storm on Little Diomede Island mid-day Wednesday, November 9, 2011.
Levi McKay and Dave Ward / ASRC SKW ESKIMOS
Workers on the Little Diomede school project photographed the affects of the storm on Little Diomede Island mid-day Wednesday, November 9, 2011.
Levi McKay and Dave Ward / ASRC SKW ESKIMOS
A small seal got some rest on ice in the Snake River in Nome Wednesday, November 9, 2011 after a wild night with the Bering Sea storm that hit the region.
Photo by Peggy Fagerstrom
During a lull in the storm, the waves from the Bering Sea continue to crash over east Nome, Wednesday, November 9, 2011.
Photo by Peggy Fagerstrom
Location: Golovin, Alaska, 11/09/11 Neighbors home surrounded by water.
Photo courtesy of Chuck Lewis / ADN reader submission
Workers on the Little Diomede school project photographed the affects of the storm on Little Diomede Island mid-day Wednesday, November 9, 2011.
Levi McKay and Dave Ward / ASRC SKW ESKIMOS
The storm crashed along the coast in Shaktoolik Wednesday, November 9, 2011 and raised the water all around the community.
Elmer Bekoalok
The storm crashed along the coast in Shaktoolik Wednesday, November 9, 2011 and raised the water all around the community.
Elmer Bekoalok
The storm crashed along the coast in Shaktoolik Wednesday and raised the water all around the community.
Elmer Bekoalok
Nome kids plays in sea foam near the Nome harbor late Tuesday evening, November 8, 2011 as the big Bering Sea storm started kicking up.
Photo by Peggy Fagerstrom
Workers on the Little Diomede school project photographed the affects of the storm on Little Diomede Island mid-day Wednesday, November 9, 2011.
Levi McKay and Dave Ward / ASRC SKW ESKIMOS
The high water near Nome washed out the road on west beach during the storm on early Tuesday morning, November 9, 2011.
Photo by Peggy Fagerstrom
Workers on the Little Diomede school project photographed the affects of the storm on Little Diomede Island mid-day Wednesday, November 9, 2011.
Levi McKay and Dave Ward / ASRC SKW ESKIMOS
NOAA satellite imagery shows the storm's progress today.
Photo courtesy NOAA
The storm crashed along the coast in Shaktoolik Wednesday, November 9, 2011 and raised the water all around the community.
Elmer Bekoalok
The causeway being hit by waves before the big storm Tuesday November 8, 2011 in Nome.
Peggy Fagerstrom
Early morning cleanup happened in Nome after first storm surge and before second surge on Wednesday, November 9, 2011.
Photo by Peggy Fagerstrom
Pat Krier, owner of the Polar Cafe on Front Street, puts finishing touches to his windows while his crew carries merchandise out of the cellar to the 2nd floor Tuesday November 8, 2011 in Nome. During the last storm his building basement was flooded and he lost a lot of supplies due to water damage.
Peggy Fagerstrom
The storm crashed along the coast in Shaktoolik Wednesday, November 9, 2011 and raised the water all around the community.
Elmer Bekoalok
Workers on the Little Diomede school project photographed the affects of the storm on Little Diomede Island mid-day Wednesday, November 9, 2011.
Levi McKay and Dave Ward / ASRC SKW ESKIMOS
The storm crashed along the coast in Shaktoolik Wednesday and raised the water all around the community.
Elmer Bekoalok
The current hazard map shows the storm is letting up along the Aleutian chain but most of western Alaska is still under the warning status.November 9. 2011
US National Weather Service
Pat Krier ties down his propane tank on the ocean side of the Polar Cafe' in preparation for the storm Tuesday November 8, 2011 in Nome.
Peggy Fagerstrom
People rush to board up their windows Tuesday November 8, 2011 on East Front Street in Nome.
Peggy Fagerstrom
Workers on the Little Diomede school project photographed the affects of the storm on Little Diomede Island mid-day Wednesday, November 9, 2011.
Levi McKay and Dave Ward / ASRC SKW ESKIMOS
The Nome Trading Company on Front Street continues to serve customers after boarding up all the windows in preparation for the big storm Tuesday November 8, 2011 in Nome.
Peggy Fagerstrom
The storm crashed along the coast in Shaktoolik Wednesday and raised the water all around the community.
Elmer Bekoalok
Charlie Weyauvanna plays in sea foam late Tuesday evening ,November 8, 2011 as the big Bering Sea storm started kicking up.
Photo by Peggy Fagerstrom
Location: Golovin, Alaska, 11/09/11
Photo courtesy of John Peterson / ADN reader submission
Pat Krier, owner of the Polar Cafe, boards up the back of his business facing the seawall and the Bering Sea Tuesday November 8, 2011 in Nome.
Peggy Fagerstrom
Charlie Weyauvanna plays in sea foam late Tuesday evening ,November 8, 2011 as the big Bering Sea storm started kicking up.
Photo by Peggy Fagerstrom
The Nome Nugget newspaper is all boarded up awaiting the big storm Tuesday November 8, 2011 in Nome.
Peggy Fagerstrom
Captured by the NOAA-19 satellite's AVHRR sensor, the storming bearing down on Alaska is seen in this infrared imagery on November 8, 2011 at 1400z. The storm is predicted to bring hurricane force winds and surge through the Bering Strait. Coastal flood warnings are in effect for much of western Alaska. Because of Alaska's high latitude, geostationary satellite do not provide adequate coverage. Polar-orbiting satellites like NOAA-19 are required to monitor severe weather in such areas. However, polar-orbiting satellites acquire imagery as swaths as the orbit around the planet. The area outside of the swath is visible in this image.
NOAA
Location: Tununak AK, nov 9, 2011 this one after the storms hit us , And you can see how the tide camed in last night from the snow line on the seawall about close to 3/4 ,and most of the down town area went to the school to do the flood and they had no power from air port to the old post office and the wind camed from the southeast guesting at seventy-five to eighty knots but gladly the water didnt make to the village
Photo courtesy of MR Usugan / ADN reader submission
Location: Nome, AK, 11/08/11
Photo courtesy of James Standish / ADN reader submission
Location: Saint Michael, 11/9/11 12:30 PM The wind-generated tidal surge rapidly floods low-lying lands in Saint Michael. With several hours yet before the predicted high tide for the day, we don't know the full extent of the flooding.
Photo courtesy of M. Thompson / ADN reader submission
Location: Saint Michael, 11/9/11 12:30 PM Living only 100 yards from the beach has occasional disadvantages. The fish racks typically define the beach line.
Photo courtesy of M. Thompson / ADN reader submission
Location: South East end of St. Michael, 11/9/11 8 homes are not accessible by road.
Photo courtesy of Charlene Austin / ADN reader submission
Location: Saint Michael, 11/9/11 12:30 PM
Photo courtesy of M. Thompson / ADN reader submission
Location: Saint Michael, 11/9/11 12:30 PM This road was perfectly dry at 8:00 AM, but flooded and completely impassible by 9:00 AM.
Photo courtesy of M. Thompson / ADN reader submission
Location: Kotlik, 11/9/2011 Rising flood waters in Kotlik.
Photo courtesy of Stella Rose / ADN reader submission
Location: 11/9/2011, Kotlik Rising flood waters in Kotlik.
Photo courtesy of Stella Rose / ADN reader submission
Location: Kotlik, 11/9/2011 Rising flood waters in Kotlik.
Photo courtesy of Stella Rose / ADN reader submission
Location: Kotlik, 11/9/2011 Rising flood waters in Kotlik.
Photo courtesy of Stella Rose / ADN reader submission
Location: Kotlik, 11/9/2011 Rising flood waters in Kotlik.
Photo courtesy of Stella Rose / ADN reader submission
Location: Kotlik, 11/9/2011 Rising flood waters in Kotlik.
Photo courtesy of Stella Rose / ADN reader submission
Location: Kotlik, 11/9/2011 Rising flood waters in Kotlik.
Photo courtesy of Stella Rose / ADN reader submission
Location: Nome, Alaska, 11/8/2011 The Bering Sea kicks up near Nome, AK as a huge storm moves into western Alaska on Tuesday, November 8, 2011.
Photo courtesy of Catherine Lepine / ADN reader submission
Location: Nome, Alaska, 11/8/2011 Wind driven snow plasters a door in Nome, AK as a huge storm moves into western Alaska on Tuesday, November 8, 2011.
Photo courtesy of Catherine Lepine / ADN reader submission
Location: Nome, 11/8/11 Photo taken by Kacey Miller of Nome; 11/8 at 8pm across from the Nome Elementary school.
Photo courtesy of Kacey Miller / ADN reader submission
Location: Nome, AK, 11/8/11 Photo taken by Kacey Miller of Nome; 7:30 pm on 11/8 at 6th and I.
Photo courtesy of Kacey Miller / ADN reader submission
Location: Nome, 11/8/11 Picture taken by Kacey Miller of Nome; 11/8 at 6pm. Powerlines whipping in the wind.
Photo courtesy of Kacey Miller / ADN reader submission

Villages and towns across Alaska's western and northwest coasts braced Tuesday for a winter megastorm that the National Weather Service says could be among the worst on record.

Forecasters warned of life-threatening surf, wind and snow clobbering villages along the Bering and Chukchi sea coasts Tuesday night and today. Some villagers moved to higher ground. Officials in Nome evacuated half of the city's Front Street, the famous finish line of the Iditarod Trail.

"These things get named hurricanes down south and get a category. It's that magnitude," said Jeff Osiensky, regional warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service. The storm was expected to hit across hundreds of miles of coastline, with the worst expected from the Yukon River Delta all the way north to the Arctic Coast.

The wind was forecast to reach 50 to 75 mph for much of the coast, with gusts of 90 to 100 mph in some areas, according to the Weather Service. A lack of protective, shore-fast sea ice worsened the high-water danger compared to a similarly powerful storm in 1974, forecasters said.

Severe shoreline erosion was forecast, as was a storm surge of up to 9 feet that was expected to cause coastal flooding.

As the state triggered an emergency operations center in Anchorage, some villagers hundreds of miles away boarded windows in preparation for the worst.

"There was a big rush at the store today to get water," said Elmer Davis, a former police officer who lives in the village of Shishmaref, which has seen extensive coastal erosion.

"I don't get scared too easy," he said, "and this sounds like Armageddon."

EVACUATION PLANS

The response in many communities has been similar to that seen in hurricane-prone regions of the Lower 48, said Bryan Fisher, incident commander with the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

City leaders in Nome ordered the evacuation of the south side of Front Street and other low-lying areas in anticipation of waves pouring across the seawall, said Mimi Farley, Nome emergency service administrator. About 70 miles to the north, dozens of people living near the sea in the Seward Peninsula village of Teller crowded into homes with friends and relatives on higher ground, said elementary school teacher Jan Delaney.

"Holy cow. We're maybe 50, maybe 75 feet from the ocean," she said.

Three communities -- Gambell, Savoonga and Saint Michael -- set up evacuation centers in case residents need a safe place to sleep, Fisher said.

In Point Hope, surrounded by Arctic waters on a narrow spit 330 miles southwest of Barrow, workers armed with radios watched the water Tuesday night.

At the first sign of flooding, villagers planned to sound ambulance and fire truck sirens, alerting people to head for the city school, which stands on pilings about 15 feet above the rest of the village, said Point Hope Mayor Steve Oomittuk. "We have no other place to go than the school that puts us up into higher ground."

In Kotzebue, the hub city for a collection of largely Inupiat villages in Northwest Alaska, the city and borough planned to urge residents to stay inside, said acting city manager Keith Greene. "One of our concerns up here is people walking through the snow and getting lost."

Even during routine storms, winds and blowing snow can blind travelers on the outskirts of the city. Greene said the super storm is expected to whip gusts as strong as 100 mph.

The message for Kotzebue residents will be "stay indoors, don't leave home for the next couple days," he said.

Iditarod champion John Baker, who lives and trains in Kotzebue, planned to have his 23-year-old son watch his dog team overnight, he said.

If the water rises too high, or the snow piles too deep, it'll be time to move the dogs, Baker said.

'EPIC MAGNITUDE'

Alaskans, especially those living on the coast, are no strangers to brutal winter weather. But the language of the National Weather Service warnings signaled that this week's storm was no ordinary storm.

"This will be (an) extremely dangerous and life-threatening storm of an epic magnitude rarely experienced," read one bulletin. "All people in the area should take precautions to safeguard their lives and property."

The storm is dangerous because seas of 15 to 25 feet could overturn small boats, and widespread blizzard conditions over much of the west coast could strand backcountry travelers, said Bob Fischer, lead forecaster for the Weather Service in Fairbanks.

"I've worked at this office for about 40 year and I haven't seen anything like this," said Fischer, whose office forecasts for the Northwest and Western coasts.

Across the state, Alaskans turned to social media to track the storm and keep tabs on friends in far-flung villages.

"Winds getting stronger in #Nome," Tweeted David Dodman of Nome. "@knom building shaking even more (my desk is on 2nd floor); feels like airplane turbulence.."

Meantime, travel advisories were being issued Tuesday and flights were canceled throughout the Norton Sound region. An indication of just how seriously people were taking the threat was the postponement of a big regional school cheerleading and wrestling tournament in Unalakleet.

"This is the most precaution for a storm that I've seen people take," said Jay Thomas, principal at Unalakleet's Frank A. Degnan School, who has been living in the region for nine years.

The mayor and city council had met with school district officials to formulate emergency plans, he said. Elders had been evacuated from the low-lying beachfront to houses at higher levels. Local stores had donated bottled water and other supplies to stock the school in the event that people have to take shelter there.

Read The Village, the ADN's blog about rural Alaska, at adn.com/thevillage. Twitter updates: twitter.com/adn_kylehopkins. Call Kyle Hopkins at 257-4334 or email him at khopkins@adn.com.

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By KYLE HOPKINS, CASEY GROVE and MIKE DUNHAM
Anchorage Daily News
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