Powerful Storm Rips Off Roofs, Floods Alaska

By MARY PEMBERTON | November 10, 2011
photo credit: NOAA

A powerful Bering Sea storm hit western Alaska early Wednesday with high winds and surging seas, the National Weather Service said.

Some homes close to ocean have been evacuated, but there are no reports of injuries, he said.

A storm surge could bring more severe flooding later Wednesday in the Nome area, meteorologist Scott Berg said.

Blizzard conditions prevailed overnight in quite a few places with sustained winds of 60 mph (96 kph) and gusts to 80 mph (128 kph).

Berg said big low-pressure systems hit Alaska often, but this one is different because of the track it took and because ice hasn’t formed yet to protect the shore.

“Because we don’t have shore-fast ice this time of year, that’s what’s significant,” he said. “Just hasn’t got cold enough yet. We have open water generally until the first of December.”

The unusual storm had western Alaska bracing Tuesday. Tiny coastal communities were at particular risk for damage from wind and expected flooding.

Winds had already reached 80 mph (128 kph) late Tuesday, said Neil Murakami, a National Weather Service forecaster in Anchorage.

The storm surge could produce 7-foot (2.1-meter) rise in sea levels, which would cause heavy flooding, meteorologist Stephen Kearney in Fairbanks said.

State emergency management officials said some residents in the storm’s path headed for emergency shelters Tuesday.

State officials warned residents in harm’s way to secure home heating fuel tanks in case sea water flooded into communities.

The windows were boarded up Tuesday morning at the Polar Cafe, a popular restaurant that faces the ocean in Nome.

Items stored in the basement had been carried upstairs and were in one of the hotel rooms, said waitress Andrea Surina. Plans were being made to move the propane tanks to a safer spot, she said.

The last time forecasters saw something similar was in November 1974, when Nome also took the brunt of the storm. That surge measured more than 13 feet (4 meters), pushing beach driftwood above the level of the previous storm of its type in 1913.

Officials are concerned for Alaska Natives in the 18 villages in the region.

The village of Point Hope, which sits on the tip of a peninsula with the Arctic Ocean on one side and the Bering Sea on the other, is up to 8 feet (2.4 meters) above sea level, Mayor Steve Oomittuk said.

The Inupiat Eskimo village of about 700 people has no sea wall and no evacuation road. If evacuation becomes necessary, residents will go to the school because it sits on higher ground and is big enough to accommodate everyone, he said.

Smaller communities that are vulnerable to storm erosion were of particular concern, especially the village of Kivalina, already one of the state’s most threatened communities because of erosion.

(Associated Press writer Carson Walker in Phoenix contributed to this report.)

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