AD Main Menu

Forecasters: Southcentral Alaska should prepare for another big storm

A felled tree and badly damaged shed at Airport Heights.
Amanda Coyne photo
A felled tree in Fairview.
Courtesy Thomas Higgins
A windstorm in Anchorage Tuesday night uprooted trees all over town, including this one on Anchorage's Airport Heights neighborhood.
Christopher Kelliher photo
ML&P work crew deals with a tree that downed a power line on Tudor a few blocks west of Lake Otis. Workers removed power lines and used a chain saw to cut away the tree.
Jill Burke photo
Kamaki Wilson, age 18, works a machete to clear a downed tree that had fallen across the sidewalk west of Tudor Blvd. Wilson moved here 6 months ago from Hawaii and is no stranger to wind storms and fallen debris.
Jill Burke photo
Sign at Starbucks at Tudor and C St. -- to the disappointment of caffeine freaks.
Jill Burke photo
ML&P work crew deals with a tree that downed a power line on Tudor a few blocks west of Lake Otis. Workers removed power lines and used a chain saw to cut away the tree.
Jill Burke photo
Damage from the freak storm that blew into Anchorage on Sept. 4, 2012. Picture taken in East Anchorage, near the Boniface Gate of Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.
Community photo
APD Officers control traffic at Arctic and Tudor, where lights were out.
Jill Burke photo
A tree lies fallen in a yard off of Grape Place in Midtown.
Jill Burke photo
A hiker revels in 100+ mph winds at Glen Alps on Tuesday, September 4, 2012.
Courtesy Josh Martinez Photography
The Veterans Memorial Flagpole lies on the ground after being knocked over by winds on September 5, 2012.
Loren Holmes photo
State house candidate Cean Stevens was helping neighbors in Anchorage's Airport Heights neighborhood Wednesday by taking a chainsaw to fallen trees.
Amanda Coyne photo

Update by Alaska Dispatch staff, 2:16 p.m., Saturday:

Be prepared, everyone. A light breeze in Anchorage has slowly but visibly increased over the past few hours, but forecasts say it will be hours before it reaches a bluster. On Saturday morning, the National Weather Service (NWS) increased the seriousness of its weather warnings for Alaska's Southcentral region. By the late evening, residents are expected to be in the midst of a serious wind and rain storm, the second one so far this month.

The advisory status now includes a hazardous condition warning due to high winds for Southcentral Alaska and on top of that, a flood watch for Western Prince William Sound. Mariners are also in for a wild weekend. There's a storm or gale warning for several coastal areas and hurricane force winds and high seas forecast in the open waters of the northern Gulf of Alaska from Cape Suckling to Gore Point.

According to NOAA, a "powerful late summer storm" sweeping from the Bering Sea is likely to hit the Southcentral region starting Saturday evening and continuing into Sunday. The impact is not expected to be as significant as the most recent high windstorm that knocked out power to tens of thousands of Anchorage residents last week, but may still be dangerous or cause inconvenience.

Officials have issued a "high wind warning" for Anchorage and nearby communities to the south, as well as the entire Prince William Sound. It will be in effect from 10 p.m. Saturday to 4 p.m. Sunday. East Winds through Portage Valley and along Turnagain Arm are expected to blow between 35 to 55 MPH, with gusts of 70 to 85 MPH. Wind is expected to "peak during the day on Sunday as a weather front moves through the region." By Sunday afternoon, however, the weather will "begin diminishing slowly."

Along with the high wind warning comes a flood watch for the Western half of Prince William Sound. A "flood watch means there is potential for flooding." The NWS says that storm models indicate the storm may dump 5 to 7 inches of rain on streams and rivers draining into the Sound and in the Seward area. The flood watch will be in effect beginning Saturday evening until Sunday afternoon.

The National Weather Service urges the public to secure any loose equipment or items that will be left out during the storm, and to closely monitor the situation as it begins to develop.

Read the original report, from Friday afternoon, below:

The National Weather Service has issued an update on a storm sweeping from the Bering Sea toward Southcentral Alaska and the state's largest city of Anchorage. While the storm is still not expected to be as powerful as the one that recently knocked out power to tens of thousands of Anchorage residents, it still could be dangerous. Forecasters warn residents to prepare.

According to the most recent statement from the National Weather Service, wind speeds "close" to last week's storm are expected. Those winds left thousands of Anchorage residents stuck without power for days while repair crews scrambled to fix lines knocked out by fallen trees.

Chugach Electric, the utility hit hardest by the previous storm, released a preliminary estimate Thursday that the storm had cost about $2 million in cleanup and repairs. The company answered 11,000 calls related to outages and other storm-related system damages.

"...There is a high probability that there will be more (downed) trees and resulting power outages" following this weekend's storm, according to the agency, which predicted the devastating impact of last week's storm.

Phil Steyer, director of corporate communications with Chugach Electic, said that the company is prepared as they always are for storms and potential outages. The extent of last week's storm was unusual, which led to the lengthy outages for some Anchorage residents.

"Every outage is a little different, certainly last week’s storm had some things that were unique," Steyer said. He said that some employees will be coming in before the storm hits to answer calls and respond to potential outages and damages.

For the public's part, Steyer said that it's always good to stock up on the essentials, like candles and batteries for flashlights. He said that during last week's outages, many people were worried about the contents of their freezers, full of hauls of meat from a summer of hunting or fishing.

"A lot of people were concerned about their freezers, we suggest people think in advance about what they might do if their power is going to be out for days for a home," Steyer said. He said that could include taking it to the house of a friend or family member who has power. Otherwise, knowing where to get dry ice to keep food cold can help.

Keeping a freezer shut can help retain the cold in a freezer during shorter outages.

Brad Hilliard, a regional spokesman for State Farm insurance, said that the company had already seen about 450 claims filed after last week's storm, and they expected that number to continue to tick upward.

Hilliard said that extra help brought in following the last storm was still in Alaska, so they might be useful again after the coming weather.

"We do still have the adjusters working claims," Hilliard said. "We brought some extra help in from the Lower 48 to help address that, so we’ll be ready to kind of address that again with the coming weather."

He said that if people still have existing damage from the last storm, they can attempt to alleviate further damage by taking protective measures, like boarding up broken windows or pinning tarps over sections of roof with missing shingles.

The Alaska Division of Homeland Security issued an advisory to never use a gas-powered generator indoors, due to the potential for carbon monoxide accumulation.

Originally, forecasters said winds within the city of Anchorage would likely remain below 40 mph this weekend, but the weather service said Thursday on its Facebook page that much of the city could experience winds of 35 to 50 mph, with gusts reaching 65 mph. On the Hillside and the area along Turnagain Arm, where winds usually hit hardest, gusts of up to 110 mph are possible.

The storm is expected to peak Saturday night and Sunday morning, diminishing as Sunday wears on. South and West Anchorage could experience the strongest winds during the day Sunday.

Also expected to see high winds are the Western Prince William Sound region, including Seward and Whittier, which could see gusts of up to 80 mph, according to the Alaska Division of Homeland Security. High winds are also expected in portions of the Interior, including the Tanana Flats region and Delta Junction.

Additionally, the National Weather Service on Friday issued a flood watch for Prince William Sound and the Eastern Kenai Peninsula, including the communities of Cordova, Valdez, Seward and Whittier.

"A period of heavy rain over 24 hours is expected to fall in this region with potential rainfall reaching between 4 and 7 inches with some in the mountains expecting upwards of nine inches," the NWS reported. That heavy rain should last about the same time as the coming windstorm, Saturday evening into Sunday afternoon.

All the rain accompanying the windstorm could soften the ground and allow trees to be more easily uprooted.

So gas up the generators and stock up on candles and Pilot Bread. Anchorage might be in for another windy ride.

Contact Ben Anderson at ben(at)alaskadispatch.com