Communities in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands are already facing another storm just days after a near-record breaking weather system slammed through their communities peppered along the volcanic island chain in the North Pacific.
Much of the Aleutians remain under a storm warning as meteorologists in Anchorage track a system moving into the Bering Sea toward the Prbilof Islands, where it is expected to weaken. A strong wind warning had already been canceled in the Aleutians by Friday afternoon, but not before the storm blew into the towns and villages still reeling from last week’s system.
“[It’s] raging outside as we speak,” Debra Sharrah, the city clerk for Adak, Alaska, said Thursday. “We were already experiencing horrible, horrible winds this morning,” but not as bad as last week’s storm, she added.
“We do expect those [same] communities to be impacted by this storm,” said Louise Fode, a meteorologist at the Anchorage office of the National Weather Service.
The latest storm came just as many residents in the Aleutians were trying to clean up from last week’s storm, which brought nine hours of sustained wind gusts clocking it at more than 100 miles per hour — including two hours of gusts that peaked at 122 miles per hour – to Adak, the United State’s westernmost municipality some 1,200 miles west of Anchorage.
The storm’s wind speeds were equivalent to a category 3 hurricane.
“There is extensive damage to a lot of buildings,” Sharrah said. The solarium on her building was torn off and lodged over a nearby electric transformer, she said, but local fishermen were able to board up the wall before the next system rolled in.
“I was lucky,” Sharrah added.
The City of Adak declared a state of emergency Wednesday evening, requesting technical assistance from Alaska’s state government. The city’s airport, fish processing plant, and residential properties sustained damage during the storm, according to a statement released by Adak City Manager Layton Lockett.
“The City is concerned for personal and commercial entities and their ability to adequately repair their facilities,” Lockett wrote. “While the island is abundant in some resources, supplies and labor are in short supply.”
There are around 100 year-long residents of Adak, who inhabit a vacated Cold War-era military base built to house thousands. There is passenger and cargo air service from Anchorage twice a week, weather permitting.
In Atka, east of Adak in the Aleutian Chain, residents reported similar damage on social media, including a wall blown off the tribal office building, and a porch blown off a community building.
Last week’s storm comes just one year after another massive storm set records in Alaska. In November 2014, Typhoon Nuri slammed into the Aleutians, becoming the strongest storm ever recorded in the Bering Sea.
Lower air pressure means stronger storms. Both Nuri and last week’s storm registered at 924 millibars. In comparison, Hurricane Katrina’s central pressure in 2005 was measured at 920 millibars. In 2012, Hurricane Sandy’s was 940.
Fode said she could not speak to any increase in the strength or frequency of storms in the North Pacific, as there are not enough historical data to analyze.
2015 has been a year of strange weather in Alaska. Much of the state recorded 90-degree temperatures in May – breaking records – and some 5 million acres of land burned in wildfires during the summer. A persisting patch of warm water in the north Pacific – dubbed “the blob” – is believed to be behind tropical fish sightings in the Gulf of Alaska, as well as a toxic algae bloom resulting in more record-breaking levels of toxins found in shellfish.
Regardless, Fode said that while last week’s storm was “anomalous,” this week’s is more on par with what forecasters expect in December.
“During this time of year, we’re starting to see very cold air up over the Russian mainland,” Fode said. “When we have a storm that’s forming down near the coast of Japan, and moves northward and starts to pull that cold air from Russia, this can actually rapidly strengthen a storm.”
Schuessler is a freelance writer.