A ferocious and record-setting storm hammering the far western Aleutian Islands on Thursday was not expected to cause major damage to communities in the region, weather forecasters say.
That’s only because of where the storm is centered: over uninhabited islands and ocean in the very far western Aleutian Islands, said Rick Thoman, a climate scientist with the Alaska Center for Climate Assessment & Policy at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
“Kind of like a tornado in a cornfield versus in the center of a city,” he said.
The storm, which has been described as a “bomb cyclone,” has already set records for the lowest sea level pressure ever recorded in Alaska and is considered the “deepest” cyclone in the state since record keeping began in the 1950s, according to climatologist Brian Brettschneider.
Early Thursday afternoon it was windy in Adak, but not remarkably so, said Barbara Tolliver, who operates a hunting lodge with her husband on the island.
“I wasn’t even aware of the intensity of (the storm),” she said. “A friend from the states texted me.”
When she looked out her window, she saw blowing snow and birds.
“There are birds flying out there,” she said. “I think they’re having fun on the wind and in the waves.”
The wind slammed against the house last night, she said. But people were still out caribou hunting Thursday.
Marii Swetzof in Atka said strong winds hit overnight, but lessened during the day.
“Now it’s what we’d consider a ‘normal’ Aleutian storm,” she said.
Some boats had come into the harbor to wait out the weather, Swetzof said.
Communities in the Aleutians, including Adak, Atka and Unalaska/Dutch Harbor, were expected to be spared major damage despite the size and intensity of the storm, said Thoman. That’s only because the storm was centered so far west.
“If we had this exact same storm, except centered between Adak and Dutch (Harbor), we would be talking about big impacts to people,” he said. “But because it’s so far west, there’s just not much there.”
By the time the storm hurtles into communities to the east, its ferocity was expected to have diminished.
“Basically the further east you go into population centers, the lesser the winds will be,” said Michael Kurz, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
It’ll definitely be some weather, but “not that out of the ordinary of what they see this time of year,” Thoman said.
The highest recorded wind as of midday Thursday was at Shemya, peaking at 83 mph, Thoman said.
“By Shemya standards, that’s a nice healthy wind but they’ve had much worse,” he said.
A small military installation on Shemya is “of course built to withstand bombing,” Thoman said.
The storm spawned “monster” seas, Kurz said. A buoy positioned south of Amchitka registered a 51-foot wave, more than the height of a two-story house, according to Thoman.
The U.S. Coast Guard so far had not been called to help any vessels hit by the storm.
As of 3 p.m. Thursday, “all maritime traffic is avoiding the incoming storm in the Bering Sea,” said Public Affairs Specialist 1st Class Nate Littlejohn of the U.S. Coast Guard. “We hope mariners in the region will continue to monitor this powerful storm and respect it.”