At least two Alaska communities hundreds of miles apart reported flooding from ice jams on the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers Saturday while others were bracing for the possibility of breakup flooding in the coming days.
No emergency assistance had yet been requested from either of the communities experiencing flooding, Jeremy Zidek, a spokesman with the Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, said Saturday afternoon.
Water levels in both places, Eagle on the Yukon River and Red Devil on the Kuskokwim, had started receding by Saturday evening as downstream communities were urged to monitor conditions, illustrating the dynamic situation surrounding river breakup in Alaska.
Zidek said sudden, higher temperatures of up to 60 degrees Friday in the Interior had contributed to the recent flooding during an already high-risk year for breakup flooding.
“With temperatures getting warmer, it’s traditional breakup season in Alaska — just a little later than usual,” said Mike Ottenweller, a forecaster with the Alaska-Pacific River Forecast Center, which tracks spring breakup.
[Forecasters flag increased flooding risk during Alaska river breakup this year]
Flooding was reported in Red Devil, located on the Kuskokwim River about 75 miles northeast of the Western Alaska community of Aniak.
Up to 4 feet of water had been reported in the lowest part of the village. The flooding was caused by an ice jam that formed around 11:30 a.m. 5 miles downstream from Red Devil, Ottenweller said.
There was a least a foot of water on the runway used for air traffic into town, and Zidek said that after the weather there worsened Saturday afternoon, River Watch teams were unable to land.
Officials on the ground were assessing the level of damage that had occurred. By Saturday evening, waters had started receding, prompting the cancellation of a flood warning for Red Devil.
As water levels lowered there, Crooked Creek downstream started seeing flooding due to an ice jam, according to the National Weather Service. A flood watch was in effect through Monday morning for Crooked Creek to Aniak.
On Saturday morning in Eagle, near the Canadian border, a surge of ice and water on the Yukon rose over the riverbank. Low-lying areas were flooded by Saturday afternoon.
The surge knocked over a street sign and flooded the road between Eagle and Eagle Village that runs parallel to the river, according to Ed Plumb, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Fairbanks.
“There was a large ice jam that held for a couple of days upriver from Eagle, and then that released, and that’s what that big surge of water was that came down,” Plumb said.
While some small structures along the river had been impacted, Plumb said no homes had been reported as flooded. The road along the river was impassable as of Saturday afternoon, but the water was starting to come down, Plumb said. He referenced reports from community members and the state’s River Watch program, which was monitoring the situation via aircraft all afternoon.
🧊 Ice went overbank at Eagle early this morning, knocking down the Lincoln and Front Street sign...RIP! ⚠️ A Flood...Posted by US National Weather Service Fairbanks Alaska on Saturday, May 13, 2023
By Saturday evening, the weather service had canceled its flood warning for Eagle, saying after waters started to recede that “there is no significant ice coming downriver. Flooding is no longer expected to pose a threat.”
Meanwhile, a flood warning was in place through Monday evening in Circle, 100 miles downriver from Eagle. An ice jam was expected to form Saturday evening when high water and ice chunks from the Yukon River breakup front meet the in-place ice downstream of Circle.
Water levels were expected to rise rapidly in Circle on Saturday night and Sunday, according to the weather service, which described the flooding of low-lying areas near Circle as “imminent.” The weather service recommended that residents move valuables away from the river and to higher ground.
[Citizen observers in Alaska river communities help scientists predict spring breakup flooding]
“Circle is vulnerable to ice jam flooding,” Plumb said. “It’s not that uncommon to have some type of flooding there during breakup.”
⚠️A Flood Watch has been issued along the Yukon River at Circle, with large chunks of ice already breaking up and being shoved towards the shore. 🧊 Stay alert and use caution! For more info, check https://t.co/ZIbWl7w5Lx #AKwx pic.twitter.com/UQx6RdVDPQ— NWS Fairbanks (@NWSFairbanks) May 13, 2023
Additional flood watches and advisories
• A flood watch was in place in the Tanana River community of Manley Hot Springs in Interior Alaska through Sunday afternoon.
“Water levels are running high and going overbank in some low-lying areas along the Tanana River near Manley Hot Springs,” the watch said, and some flooding in the parking lot at Manley Landing had already occurred.
• On the Yukon, a flood watch was in place from Eagle to Takoma Bluff, almost to Circle, through Sunday morning.
• In the Copper River Basin community of Glennallen, a flood advisory related to rapidly melting snowpack — not ice jams — is in place until midday Thursday, and minor flooding was occurring near Moose Creek.
“Above average snowpack combined with warming temperatures in mid May will continue to produce minor flooding,” the watch said.
Zidek said the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities was aware of the situation, and was readying sandbags to place along the river to help with flooding.