Residents on Alaska’s vast and sparsely populated western coast braced Friday for a powerful storm that forecasters said could be one of the worst in recent history, threatening hurricane-force winds and high surf that could knock out power and cause flooding.
The storm is the remnants of what was Typhoon Merbok, which University of Alaska Fairbanks climate specialist Rick Thoman said is also influencing weather patterns far from Alaska — a rare late-summer storm now is expected to bring rain this weekend to drought-stricken parts of California.
“All this warm air that’s been brought north by this ex-typhoon is basically inducing a chain reaction in the jet stream downstream from Alaska,” he said.
“It’s a historic-level storm,” Thoman said of the system steaming toward Alaska. “In 10 years, people will be referring to the September 2022 storm as a benchmark storm.”
Hurricane-force winds were forecast in parts of the Bering Sea, while in the small communities of Elim and Koyuk, around 145 kilometres from the hub community of Nome, water levels could be up to five metres above the normal high tide line, according to the National Weather Service. Flood warnings were in effect until Monday in parts of northwest Alaska.
In Nome, which has about 3,500 residents, Leon Boardway was working as usual Friday at the Nome Visitors Center, a half-block from the Bering Sea. “I just want to keep my door open and the coffee pot on,” he said after it had begun to rain and the winds picked up.
But few people were coming by. Residents, visitors and businesses in the town, famous for being at the end of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race and the setting for the dredging-for-gold reality show Bering Sea Gold, were boarding up windows and otherwise bracing for the storm.
“The ocean is getting worse out there,” said Boardway, 71, as he checked out the centre’s webcam, which from its high perch has a good view of the swells.
“I hope everybody stays calm and everybody just gets in a good, safe position,” he said.
Typhoon Merbok formed farther east in the Pacific Ocean than where such storms typically appear. Water temperatures are unusually warm this year so the storm “was able to spin up,” Thoman said.