Fall storm expected to bring winds, flooding to parts of Alaska

Newtok storm debris
A massive storm in September swallowed half of the remaining land that lies between the edge of the Ningliq River and Newtok’s local school. (Emily Schwing for KYUK)

A fall storm is expected to bring strong winds and areas of flooding to parts of Western Alaska, though a forecaster said Tuesday that communities hard hit by a storm that barreled into the region last month were not expected to feel the brunt of this system.

Still, residents in communities battered by the remnants of Typhoon Merbok in September were monitoring the storm’s track, said Kevin Knowlton, an emergency preparedness specialist with the nonprofit corporation Kawerak, which provides services in the Bering Strait region.

“Everyone is along the coast concerned that this may end up being more than just your typical fall storm,” he said.

With the ground softened by last month’s storm, he said “it’s hard to say what kind of potential this storm has to create more damage or even delete the progress that’s been made” in recovery efforts.

The National Weather Service issued high wind warnings, in effect beginning Wednesday, for much of northwestern Alaska and for other parts of Western Alaska, including St. Lawrence Island and the Bering Strait coast. Wind gusts of up to 70 mph were possible for parts of the western Arctic coast, including Wainwright. Coastal flood warnings also were issued.

In Kivalina, which is at the tip of a barrier reef between the Chukchi Sea and Kivalina River, flooding was possible, particularly in the northwest part of the community, the weather service said. In Golovin, which had sections of road washed out by last month’s storm and homes knocked off foundations, “minor” coastal flooding was expected, according to the weather service.

Ed Plumb, a National Weather Service meteorologist, said the storm is on a “very different track” than September’s storm, which brought tidal surges and high winds that ripped up streets in several communities and pushed homes off foundations. Nome was among the hardest hit communities.

Plumb said the main impacts from the latest storm are expected to be in communities farther north.

The damage is still being tallied from last month’s storm, with initial assessments indicating damage to around 165 homes, said Jeremy Zidek, a spokesperson with the state’s emergency management office. There are water quality concerns in some communities, he said.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy was visiting communities affected by that storm Tuesday, his office said.

State Sen. Donny Olson, who is from Golovin, said residents are to a degree “on edge” after the September storm, which he called “the worst storm I’ve ever seen in my life there.”

He said he is hopeful about the recovery efforts, citing the attention the region has garnered from state and federal officials and others.

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