Alaska Interior under flood warnings as another storm moves in

Tegan Hanlon

Alaska's Interior is saturated and it's only getting wetter.

A five-day forecast full of rain prompted the National Weather Service on Tuesday to issue flood advisories, watches and warnings for a swath of the state from the upper Tanana Valley to Denali National Park to Tok.

Benjamin Bartos, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Fairbanks, advised people to keep an eye on the Chena, Goodpaster, Salcha and Tanana rivers into the weekend. The forecast calls for 1 to 4 inches of rain over the various river basins, with flooding expected in some spots as soon as Tuesday night.

"All of the little river basins in those mountainous areas, and the large river basins as well, have been saturated to the point that they're flooding now," Bartos said. "They just haven't had a chance to flush themselves out because they just keep getting more rain."

In the past two weeks, a pair of low-pressure systems have pushed into the Interior and dumped nearly 4 inches of rain in Fairbanks and 6 inches in spots south and east of the city. Fairbanks topped its record Monday for the wettest June to date with 3.56 inches of rainfall, beating the 1949 record of 3.55 inches, Bartos said.

The forecasted storm for this week is the third in the series of recent massive rainfalls. Here's what the weather service expects will be its effects on Interior waterways:

- The Chena River will crest around 22.1 feet, 2.6 feet above flood stage, near the Tors Trail campground by Wednesday evening and cross over Chena Hot Springs Road at Mile 36.9, possibly impeding traffic.

- The upper Goodpaster River will crest around 20.1 feet near the Pogo Mine on Wednesday, impacting the Pogo Mine airstrip, nearby roads and low-lying cabins. This flood crest will move downstream and reach the lower river by Friday.

- Small streams and creeks in the Salcha River basin will significantly rise through Friday, with flooding expected to begin Tuesday night on the upper Salcha River. The flood crest will move downstream and reach the Richardson Highway bridge Thursday.

- Tanana River levels may rise to at least bankfull -- a stage where any additional water will cause the river to overflow -- between Salcha and Fairbanks on Wednesday night and in Nenana by Friday morning.

By Saturday, the weather may turn around.

Bartos said sunny skies will trump the rain clouds over the holiday weekend, but waters will remain treacherous. He said mudslides and falling rocks could occur and campers should avoid setting up tents near rivers and streams or on gravel bars.

"The water will be swift with lots of debris," Bartos said. "It is deceiving. The weather itself will be good, but the effects of what is happening now will still be very much in play this weekend.