GOLOVIN, Alaska – A historic storm ripped through western Alaska on Friday and Saturday with hurricane-force winds, seas over 50 feet and coastal flooding not seen in decades, leaving homes flooded, roads swept away and electricity in a wide area.
What was once Typhoon Merbok turned into a powerful North Pacific storm as it raced almost due north and crossed the Aleutian Islands on Friday and into the Bering Sea on Saturday, sending dangerous storm surge inundating villages and coastal towns under several feet of water for hours. .
Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy declared a disaster area on Saturday morning and was due to request a federal disaster declaration from the US government on Monday. But Dunleavy says despite the record impacts, the emergency operations center received no reports of injuries.
As the storm weakened and passed into the Arctic, towns and villages along the Bering Sea began cleaning up debris that had washed ashore. Dozens of homes and buildings were flooded as the Bering Sea pushed inland, and several roads were damaged.
In Nome, where the storm surge reached just over 10ft – 7ft above the high tide line, high water washed debris into the Snake River Bridge, causing damage. Sidewalk was missing on East Front Street, according to the Alaska Department of Transportation.
Water levels in Unalakleet peaked at around 12.5ft Saturday morning, reaching one of the highest on record, according to the National Weather Service, with debris blanketing the town’s roads.
Major flooding was reported in Golovin where a gale of rain and wind raked the coastal town. Up to 6 feet of water entered the community with a maximum wind gust of 63 mph. The old Golovin airport was under water.
Significant flooding was also reported in Skaktoolik, Kotlik, Scammon Bay and Newtok, where a dozen homes were inundated and more than 35 people were displaced, according to KTUU-TV. Some communities have lost more than 100 feet of shoreline due to erosion, according to Alaska’s DOT.
The Bering Sea was pushing over the berms along Shaktoolik and the water was pouring into the coastal community, moving closer to the flooded homes. Residents evacuated to the school and the town clinic.
However, the state appears to have dodged a bullet when it comes to avoiding major damage to their critical airport network which is crucial for supply.
“Overall, our airport system weathered this storm,” an Alaska DOT spokesperson said in a statement. storm update posted on their webpage. “With so many communities affected by this event, we have confirmed that we have not seen any major damage to our runways, although we have had staff clearing debris from runway surfaces, and hear that access to routes to airports has been compromised.” They noted runway damage reported at Shaktoolik, Scammon Bay and Newtok.
Winds reach over 90 mph in places
The storm surge was pushed by powerful winds flowing through the center of the deep storm, which had reached 937 millibars as it approached the Aleutian Islands.
Cape Romanzof measured a gust of 91 mph while gusts reached 74 mph at St. Paul Island and 63 mph at Golovin.
“Even though it’s not officially a typhoon — what we might call a hurricane in the United States — it still has all that powerful energy,” FOX Weather meteorologist Britta Merwin said. “With strong winds you push a lot of water which means sea levels (will) rise and coastal flooding is a concern as well as storm surges.”
Offshore, the storm unleashed monster seas over 50ft. A buoy 310 miles north of Adak, wave height reported nearly 52 feet Friday morning amid 74 mph wind gusts. But despite hurricane-like conditions offshore, the Coast Guard said no boats were reported in distress Saturday night.
“We are ready to see if anyone needs assistance, but so far the Coast Guard has not received any rescue requests,” a U.S. Coast Guard spokesman said.
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Worse still, as the storm slows as it exits into the Arctic, high water levels persisted for hours, allowing wind-driven waves to push far inland and cause further damage. . Water levels are not expected to return to mean tidal levels until Monday across much of the affected region.
“Impacts could exceed the Bering Sea superstorm of 2011, and some places could experience their worst coastal flooding in nearly 50 years,” National Weather Service forecasters wrote in Fairbanks early Friday morning.
937 mb low a record for September
Intense storm systems are common for Alaska, but seeing an extratropical cyclone with pressure below 940 millibars is not common.
The central pressure of the storm fell to 937 mb, which was the September low at least in the last 17 years measured in the region.
“It’s definitely going to be a significant event. It’s shaping up to be one of the worst events we’ve seen in years,” said the National Weather Service office in Fairbanks, Alaska.
Threatened region brings $5 billion to Alaska’s economy
Communities like Adak, Unalaska, St. Paul, St. Johns and Bethel will all be near the center of the storm.
“For most of these communities in Alaska, when a storm hits, they don’t have the evacuation capability. So what they normally do is they will go to a community shelter, which is the safe option,” Jeremy said. Zidek, public information officer at the Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. “Supply chain issues, transportation issues and weather issues are quite common, so people have to be resilient enough to even live in these areas.”
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Meteorologists and first responders were most concerned about the maritime community, which produces most of the country’s seafood.
Pacific salmon, crab, Pacific cod, shrimp, herring, sablefish pollock and Pacific halibut are all fished in Alaska and generate more than $5 billion in economic activity in Alaska each year.
Former Typhoon Merbok will affect US weather
Typhoon Merbok is one of several significant storm systems in the Western Pacific that are expected to get caught up in the jet stream and impact weather patterns in the United States.
Abnormally warm water in the North Pacific is one ingredient that helps improve the life cycle and strength of northern cyclones, but not enough to help them maintain their tropical cyclone identity in northern latitudes.
Similar to the Atlantic Basin, the Pacific Northwest’s typhoon season is behind normal, seeing only about half of the storms they are used to seeing in mid-September.
Over the past few weeks, the Western Pacific has seen an uptick in activity with typhoons Muifa, Hinnamnor and Merbok, and now Nanmadol.
Most, if not all, will result in impacts in Alaska with rain, wind and high seas, meaning the 49th state could be in store for a rainy spell.
Experts from the NWS Climate Prediction Center expect several weeks of above-average rainfall in the state.