Weather

Historic storm batters Western Alaska coast

Editor’s note: This story has been updated. Find the most recent information here.

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Updated, 10:30 a.m. Saturday: A powerful, historic storm continued battering a huge swath of the Western Alaska coastline on Saturday, with reports of flooding, wind damage and power outages.

The extent of flooding and damage wasn’t immediately clear but social media posts reported flooding in multiple communities.

As the system approached Alaska late Friday and into early Saturday, roaring south-to-southwesterly winds battered the state’s western coast. Through Saturday morning, widespread gusts had reached 45 to 77 mph, according to the National Weather Service.

In Hooper Bay, with a population of over 1,000 people, some families were reportedly evacuating and social media posts showed water reaching some dwellings and roads underwater.

All around this side of hooper bay Alaska just before the waters started dropping the damage and stuff 9/16/2022

Posted by Ervin Chayalkun on Friday, September 16, 2022

Hooper Bay Storm 9/16/22 for archival purposes. Stay safe out there warriors

Posted by Hooper Bay School on Saturday, September 17, 2022

Farther north, the National Weather Service reported major flooding in Golovin. “Water is surrounding the school, homes and structures are flooded, at least a couple homes floating off the foundation, some older fuel tanks are tilted over,” the weather service’s Fairbanks office posted on social media Saturday morning.

Flooding was reported in other communities across the region, including Nome, Unalakleet and Shaktoolik.

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Around 9:40 a.m. Saturday, Gov. Mike Dunleavy said on Twitter that he “verbally declared a disaster for communities impacted” by the storm hitting Alaska’s western coast, and that the state’s Emergency Operations Center had not received reports of injuries so far.

“We will continue to monitor the storm and update Alaskans as much as possible,” he said in the post.

Shaktoolik is reporting that coastal flooding is starting. Significant waves are starting to break over the berm along...

Posted by US National Weather Service Fairbanks Alaska on Saturday, September 17, 2022

The water is FINALLY receding a little. Peak height was 13.19 feet which is 2.5 feet higher than our previous high mark....

Posted by Unalakleet Joint Response Group on Saturday, September 17, 2022

The center of the storm was approaching the Bering Strait out of the Bering Sea and toward the Chukchi Sea on Saturday morning, the weather service reported.

Coastal flood warnings and high wind warnings both remain in effect until late Saturday evening, while storm warnings have been posted at sea to warn mariners of extremely dangerous conditions.

Water levels in Nome are likely to top out at 8 to 11 feet above high tide, the weather service said. In nearby Golovin, water levels will be even higher, pushing 9 to 13 feet above their normal high tide level, according to the weather service.

This is a developing story and will be updated. If you live in a community impacted by the storm and are interested in talking to a reporter about your experience, you can reach us at newstips@adn.com.

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Earlier story:

Residents on Alaska’s vast and sparsely populated western coast braced Friday for a powerful storm that forecasters said could be one of the worst in recent history, bringing with it hurricane-force winds and high surf that could knock out power and cause flooding.

The storm is the remnants of what was Typhoon Merbok, which University of Alaska Fairbanks climate specialist Rick Thoman said is also influencing weather patterns far from Alaska — a rare late-summer storm now is expected to bring rain this weekend to drought-stricken parts of California.

“All this warm air that’s been brought north by this ex-typhoon is basically inducing a chain reaction in the jet stream downstream from Alaska,” he said.

“It’s a historic-level storm,” Thoman said of the system steaming toward Alaska. “In 10 years, people will be referring to the September 2022 storm as a benchmark storm.”

Hurricane-force winds were forecast in parts of the Bering Sea, while in the small communities of Elim and Koyuk, around 90 miles from the hub community of Nome, water levels could be up to 18 feet above the normal high tide line, according to the National Weather Service. Flood warnings were in effect until Sunday in some areas.

In Nome, which has about 3,500 residents, Leon Boardway was working as usual Friday at the Nome Visitors Center, a half-block from the Bering Sea. “I just want to keep my door open and the coffee pot on,” he said after it had begun to rain and the winds picked up.

But few people were coming by. Residents, visitors and businesses in the town, famous for being the end of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race and the setting for the dredging-for-gold reality show “Bering Sea Gold,” were boarding up windows and otherwise preparing for the storm.

“The ocean is getting worse out there,” said Boardway, 71, as he checked out the center’s webcam, which from its high perch has a good view of the swells.

“I hope everybody stays calm and everybody just gets in a good, safe position,” he said.

Typhoon Merbok formed farther east in the Pacific Ocean than where such storms typically appear. Water temperatures are unusually warm this year so the storm “was able to spin up,” Thoman said.

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Meanwhile, a low-pressure system was expected to drop from the Gulf of Alaska and park off the coast of Northern California, producing gusty ridgetop winds before rains set in late Saturday, the National Weather Service said.

This story includes reporting from the Anchorage Daily News, the Associated Press and The Washington Post.

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