Alaska braces for what forecasters believe will be its worst storm in decades as the remnants of a typhoon bring hurricane-force winds and towering waves crashing towards its shores.
The remnants of Typhoon Merbok, now swirling over the Bering Sea, are expected to bring devastating flooding and devastating wind gusts from Friday evening and through the weekend.
National Weather Service meteorologists in Fairbanks predicted that the impact of this severe storm could produce the worst coastal flooding in five decades and that rising waters may not recede for 10 to 2 p.m. in some areas, warning residents to take “immediate action” to protect themselves.
The severe storm will also accelerate coastal erosion that has already endangered villages and indigenous communities.
“It looks like for the northern Bering Sea it will be the deepest or strongest storm we have ever seen in September,” said meteorologist Ed Plumb, adding that he was on a “perfect course. to cause major severe coastal flooding in parts of western Alaska”.
The National Weather Service issued coastal flood warnings beginning Friday, stretching from parts of southwest Alaska to the Chukchi Sea coast in northwest Alaska. The agency warned on Thursday that water levels in Nome could be up to 11 feet (3.3 meters) above the normal high tide line, and in Golovin up to 13 feet (4 meters) . The coastal flood warning for the southern coast of the Seward Peninsula, including Nome, was in effect Friday evening through Sunday morning.
Officials have urged residents to prepare and their homes as threats of high winds and heavy rains could flood critical infrastructure and roads. AccuWeather analysts noted that “monstrous seas” had already reached the height of four-story buildings on Thursday, adding that the worst conditions are expected Friday through Saturday night.
Along with the flooding, wind gusts between 50 mph and 75 mph are expected and could reach 100 mph across the state’s upper west coast and parts of the Aleutian Islands, according to Mike Youman, chief meteorologist for storm warnings. at AccuWeather. Such strong gusts can uproot trees, break large branches and crumple poorly constructed homes and structures; widespread power outages were expected.
Authorities are bracing for the worst, but say Alaskans have experience navigating severe storms, including the historic 2011 Bering Sea superstorm, which was strong enough to chip off the roofs of buildings, overturning tankers, sinking boats and leaving massive damage in its wake.
“We know the drill and where things are normally impacted,” Nome Mayor John Handeland said Thursday. Jeremy Zidek, a spokesman for the Alaska Office of Emergency Management, echoed his sentiments, noting officials were in touch with community leaders and urging residents to prepare.
“We’ve seen storms like this, like in 2011, that did severe damage on the west coast of Alaska and we’ve seen similar storms that didn’t do much damage,” Zidek said. . But with so much of the region facing high risk, this storm threatened to surpass even that 2011 disaster.
The severity of the storm is not the only concern – the timing of Merbok’s arrival is also important. At the start of the year, the region is devoid of heavy ice cover, which helps protect against strong storm-induced waves. The climate crisis has compounded the problem, as warmer waters and higher temperatures have left less sea ice under the force of an expanding ocean.
Alaska is warming twice as fast as the global average, according to the Fourth National Climate Assessment, an analysis by climatologists of how climate change will affect the United States, and sea ice is disappearing at an alarming rate.
This is just the latest climate disaster to hit Alaska in recent months. The state has been hit by wildfires this season with more than 3.1 million acres burned so far this year. The climate crisis produced warmer springs and summers that left the tundra covered in vegetation.
The Climate Assessment Report highlighted the threat to coastal communities, finding that 87% of Alaska Native communities are affected by flooding and erosion.
Residents of the Yup’ik town of Newtok, for example, have in recent years been forced to abandon their forever homes due to rising sea levels; and this new community is still in an area that could be affected by this weekend’s storm.
The Associated Press contributed to this article