Flooding and damaging winds are beginning to affect portions of Alaska’s western coast early Saturday as a powerful storm threatens the region over the weekend. The remnants of Typhoon Merbok could potentially deliver the state’s strongest storm in over a decade, forecasters have said. Weather and local officials have been urging residents to prepare for the dangerous storm, which already reported hurricane-force wind gusts and wave heights over 50 feet in the Bering Sea Friday morning.
“As we receive more reports, we cannot stress this enough. PLEASE do not go near any flooded areas. Remember, turn around, don’t drown. It only takes 6″ to sweep you off your feet,” the National Weather Service in Fairbanks warned. Generally, the storm is packing winds between 40 mph and 60 mph, with gusts at 90 mph, according to the weather service. Water levels are could be as high as 12 to 18 feet above normal in some bays, with widespread areas 3 to 10 feet above normal.
Because there are few roads between communities and the roads that do exist are often difficult to travel, “we really have to take a wait-and-see approach before we deploy the limited resources that we have,” an official said, adding that “Alaska is a different animal.”Coastal flooding was expected south of the Bering Strait, with portions of the Seward Peninsula possibly seeing water levels rise to 12 feet above the normal high tide line, forecasters said. “Strong and damaging” wind gusts up to 90 m.p.h. were predicted along the coast. “Residents along the coast south of the Bering Strait are encouraged to rapidly finish preparations,” meteorologists urged in Thursday night’s weather statement. Officials with the state’s Department of Transportation and Public Facilities said they were monitoring conditions and would assess any damage when the storm passes. The Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management issued a similar message.New York Times
In Nome, where the population is less than 10,000 and where coastal flooding this weekend could reach 11 feet above the normal high tide, officials were in preparation mode. The city’s mayor, John Handeland, told The Associated Press that an emergency shelter had been set up. “We do know the drill and where things normally are impacted” because of previous storms, he said.