Interior and Southwest Alaska ice-jam floodwaters recede as recovery continues

ice flows on a river
An aerial view of the Yukon River on Tuesday, May 16, 2023, near a bridge on the Dalton Highway. (National Weather Service Alaska-Pacific River Forecast Center)

The outlook for ice jam flooding on the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers was improving Wednesday, as recovery continued in communities already hit by high waters

The flooding started over the weekend and continued into this week as ice broke up on rivers and creeks and caused jams in some places, sending high water and chunks of ice into multiple Alaska communities. Officials have reported that the flooding inundated homes and swept some buildings off of their foundations. No injuries have been reported.

In Circle, on the banks of the Yukon, state officials reported that some services were being restored Wednesday.

Andrew Sather, a state emergency management specialist, said cell phone service was being set up using an AT&T mobile trailer. Circle’s power plant was also taken offline by the flood. Sather said the Alaska Energy Authority was transporting two mobile generators to the community. An electric contractor was also in town to assess and repair power lines so the grid can be reenergized, he said.

Circle flooding
Flooding damage visible in Circle, during an aerial survey on Sunday. (National Weather Service Fairbanks)

The National Weather Service says, overall, the Yukon River prognosis is looking better as the breakup front moves downstream. Hydrologist Ed Plumb said he flew the river from Stevens Village past Tanana Tuesday and observed a lot of moving ice.

“Pretty impressive to see 130 miles of ice running down the Yukon River,” Plumb said.

When responders flew ahead of the breakup front, Plumb said, they saw mostly rotten ice.

“It’s looking less likely that an ice jam will form just based on the conditions we saw downriver,” he said.

Plumb said a River Watch Team was scheduled to fly over the river Wednesday, from Tanana to Ruby and then downstream to Galena, where it will base for the next few days. Parts of the Yukon River near Tanana remain under a flood watch through 6 p.m. Wednesday.

On the lower Kuskokwim River in Southwest Alaska, a flood warning was in place for Kalskag through Thursday morning, said Mike Ottenweller, a weather service meteorologist. No major damage to buildings in Kalskag had been reported by late Wednesday morning, but floodwaters had been seen near parts of the airport.

A flood watch remains in effect through Thursday evening for villages downriver of Kalskag, including Tuluksak, Akiachak, Kwethluk and Tuluksak.

“At this point as we anticipate, that breakup front will slowly move downstream,” said Ottenweller. “The ice is starting to weaken in that area, and it’s still showing some signs of movement – it’s not completely jammed up.”

Earlier fears of possible flooding near Bethel have subsided, according to Ottenweller, due to weak ice and open leads at the river’s mouth.

A River Watch Team plane was set Wednesday to fly from Bethel to Kalskag, making an aerial assessment of the Kuskokwim, before traveling to Crooked Creek to join recovery assistance there.

flooding around a home
Water flooded properties in Crooked Creek over the weekend.(Kyle Van Perseum/Alaska-Pacific Forecast Center)

Ottenweller urged people in the affected areas to monitor weather updates from the Alaska-Pacific River Forecast Center, and be ready to escape flooding as soon as they see it.

“With ice-jam flooding the water can rise pretty rapidly, as we’ve seen so far this year on the Yukon and the Kuskokwim,” he said.

Dan Bross is a reporter at KUAC in Fairbanks.

Chris Klint is a web producer and breaking news reporter at Alaska Public Media. Reach him at Read more about Chris here.

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