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Fairbanks sees quarter of average annual rainfall in 24 hours

Dermot Cole

FAIRBANKS -- After two days, this is already the 12th rainiest July in the history of Fairbanks.

For the third time in two weeks, a rainstorm laden with moisture from the eastern Gulf of Alaska drenched the Fairbanks area Tuesday and early Wednesday, dumping more than 3 inches of rain. Over the last two weeks, Fairbanks has received about half of its average annual rainfall, one of the wettest stretches since Felix Pedro discovered gold in 1902.

During a 24-hour period Tuesday and Wednesday, about one-quarter of the average annual rainfall fell.

With the ground saturated, minor streams turned overnight into whitewater channels, a sight so unusual that people stopped to take pictures. About 2 feet of water covered the Old Steese Highway near Fox on Wednesday afternoon, while rushing water created potholes and washouts across the region.

By late afternoon most of the rain had ended, but the rivers continued to rise across the central and eastern Interior as the hills drained in a rush. For the second time in two weeks and only the 22nd time in nearly 35 years, the Army Corps of Engineers closed the floodgates on the Chena River to keep water off the streets of Fairbanks.

The river at the Moose Creek Dam climbed to just over flood stage at 24.83 feet Wednesday afternoon. Water began collecting behind the steel gates of the Moose Creek Dam, about 35 river miles from the center of Fairbanks, at 3 p.m.

Tim Feavel, flood control project manager, said the gates are expected to be closed for a couple of days, after which the river may again be low enough to drain the temporary reservoir, putting the water back into the Chena.

The National Weather Service posted flood advisories, warnings or watches for almost every significant waterway -- the Chatanika River, Little Chena River, upper Chena River, Salcha River, Birch Creek, Beaver Creek, streams and creeks in the Eastern Alaska Range, Nenana River and the Tanana River.

The National Weather Service River Forecast Center in Anchorage said the Tanana River is expected to crest at 13.9 feet Friday, enough to cause minor flooding. During the 1967 flood, the Tanana River reached 18.90 feet at Nenana. The river was climbing toward 11.5 feet Wednesday.

Fairbanks recorded 1.92 inches of rain Tuesday and 1.44 inches Wednesday, only the fourth time the city has had back-to-back days with more than 1 inch of rain.

Meteorologist Rick Thoman said the series of storms originated with moisture from the Gulf of Alaska, then moved into Southeast Alaska and northern Canada before turning to Alaska.

He said the short-term forecast is for sunny weather and clearing skies, but Fourth of July celebrations could be followed by more wet weather later in the month.

"The source for this is this persistent low pressure in the eastern Gulf of Alaska, and that is forecast to hang around for a while," he said. "We don't really see anything in the long-range forecast of a big high building over the mainland or the eastern Gulf that would shut off that moisture source."

 


By DERMOT COLE
dermot@alaskadispatch.com