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Breakup underway in Kuskokwim River basin; residents wary of floods

The Kuskokwim River at the village of Akiachak on May 5, 2015. (Lisa Demer / ADN file)

BETHEL - Ice is breaking up in the Kuskokwim River and tributaries as temperatures rise, forcing residents to prepare for the possibility of flooding.

Ice broke up above the village of Nikolai on April 21, KYUK-AM reported Wednesday.

An ice jam is developing 24 miles downstream, officials said, while ice in the Aniak River and smaller tributaries has also broken up.

As the breakups continue, the National Weather Service predicted ice jams and flooding along the river in coming weeks.

The agency asked residents to share information about ice and snow conditions and prepare their homes and communities to prevent or minimize flood damage.

Ice jams and flooding happen when sudden warm weather quickly melts snow, which rushes into a river. The ice forms a dam and water pools behind it.

Residents along the Kuskokwim River taking part in an April 20 teleconference reported brown tundra, overflow and ice softened by weekend rains.

Much of the Kuskokwim Basin’s low-elevation snow melted over the past two weeks, but there is still heavy snow covering the mountains, officials said.

The weather service reported snowfall at the beginning of April up to two times greater than the 30-year average for the mountains surrounding the Kuskokwim River's headwaters.

The agency plans to make annual flights to observe changing river conditions but will avoid landing in communities because of travel restrictions from the COVID-19 pandemic.