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Monster Bering Sea storm lashes at Aleutians, Western Alaska

  • Author: Chris Klint
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published December 13, 2015

One of the most intense storms ever recorded in the Bering Sea built to its strongest levels yet Sunday morning after moving north from the Pacific Ocean, prompting a series of warnings in the Aleutians and Southwest Alaska from the National Weather Service.

Luis Ingram, a forecaster with the weather agency in Anchorage, said the storm was moving north past the Pribilof Islands Sunday morning. By Sunday afternoon, the storm's course was still strongly affecting the Pribilofs, according to fellow forecaster Michael Kutz.

"It's going to hook to the north as it's passing by," Kutz said. "The glancing blow will still give them gusts in the 70 mph range over St. Paul, and maybe a little bit over at St. George."

Conditions in the Bering Sea were expected to include winds from 35 to 70 knots, with seas between 21 and 50 feet. On Sunday evening, Kutz said a buoy in the western Aleutians had recorded seas of up to 53 feet overnight Saturday near the height of the storm.

"Earlier this morning, seas 40 feet and higher stretched all the way across the Bering," Kutz said. "It's still 20-footers out there, which is nothing to sneeze at."

According to the Alaska regional headquarters of the weather service, much of the Aleutian Islands from Adak to Dutch Harbor, as well as the Pribilofs, remained under warnings Sunday night for winds at or near 65 knots -- hurricane force.

Unalaska radio station KUCB reported Saturday that the U.S. Coast Guard has kept a cutter and an embarked helicopter on alert for potential maritime rescues in the Bering Sea since Thursday.

A blizzard warning remains in effect until 6 p.m. Monday for the Yukon River delta, with St. Lawrence Island and Alaska's Bering Strait coast under blizzard warnings until 6 a.m. Tuesday.

Forecasters said in a special weather statement for the Kuskokwim Delta and Bristol Bay Sunday morning the region may face sea ice being driven ashore by the storm, although there was "a significant amount of uncertainty" about whether that would happen.

"Residents along the coast should be alert for changes in the ice pack from late tonight through Monday as the ice could move suddenly," forecasters wrote. "Belongings should be moved away from the shore now before the worse conditions develop."

Ingram said the storm's strongest recorded wind gust, measured Saturday night in Adak, matches the strongest gust from the remnants of Typhoon Nuri, which moved north into the Bering Sea in November 2014.

Major storm moving through the Bering Sea. The strongest wind so far was reported at Adak with a gust to 122 mph! pic.twitter.com/qnPcQLIF7X— NWS Anchorage (@NWSAnchorage) December 13, 2015

"It is definitely one of the most powerful storms to move through the Bering," Ingram said. "Overall the low has reached its most intense strength, and should be weakening as it heads farther north."

Kutz said the agency still hadn't received any reports of damage, despite repeated high-velocity wind gusts throughout the Aleutian chain.

"The hardest places hit were Adak, that had several instances of 122 mph winds from 10:30 p.m. Saturday night and one this morning," Kutz said. "Shemya had one at 104 mph last night, before their wind system went out."

Ingram said the storm has also matched Nuri's lowest recorded pressure of 929.8 millibars, in a measurement from a floating buoy about halfway between Adak and Shemya at about 9 p.m. Saturday.

"It went right overhead and it went to 929 millibars," Ingram said.

Over the next few days, the storm is expected to break down as it moves farther north.

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