Late last week a strong Bering Sea storm hit the region, bringing winds up to 50mph, blowing snow, and high-water. Some communities saw significant erosion while others were mostly unscathed.
Norton Sound residents have reported salmon die-offs in unusually large numbers during the last week. According to the Norton Sound Economic Development Corporation (NSEDC), dead pre-spawned pink salmon were found in multiple river systems over the weekend.
The City of Unalakleet now has a working generator to power its local water plant, but the community plans to be on a boil water notice for an extended period of time.
Earlier this week, a pod of about nine Bowhead whales were seen off the northern coast of Savoonga but young ice conditions around St. Lawrence Island prevented hunting. If local hunters hauled a whale out onto young ice, it would break apart.
Sea ice extent in the Bering Sea was at record low levels at the end of 2020. And with recent strong northerly winds combined with mild temperatures, sea ice coverage in the Bering Strait region is still not ideal.
Similar to the last storm that hit the region earlier this month, there is hardly any sea ice in the Bering Sea to minimize the damage to coastal areas.
Heavy rain and coastal flood warnings threatened boats near Kotzebue, caused flooding at the old shipyard in St. Michael, and brought high water to the Eastern Norton Sound as well as several rivers near Nome.
Unalakleet’s supply of water was running on empty following a nasty freeze-up at the end of December. Freezing rain led to a frozen pool of standing water that shifted the community’s pump house before the New Year. This dropped the flow of water into the water tank and levels were down to two feet earlier the first week of January.
Even if a storm does hit Western Alaska, thicker sea ice will always be more resistant than last year’s ice was at this time, a climatologist says.
About 10 miles of above-ground water and sewer lines froze in mid-January. ANTHC suspects the lines were damaged when melting permafrost caused building foundations to shift.
Karen Dunmall, a biologist with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, said pink salmon normally prefer warmer waters than the Arctic has been able to provide. But with the Arctic warming at up to three times the rate of the rest of the world, its waters are becoming more approachable for newcomers like this species.