Alaska prepares for powerful storm said to be strongest in a decade

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The strongest storm in a decade could be upon Alaska’s western coasts this weekend as forecasters warned of a front bearing hurricane-force winds, massive seas, and enough rain for coastal flooding.

A low pressure front in the Bering Straight is spinning as wide and strong as any winter storm, but instead of bringing cold weather, it is being fed by the volatile air from the former Typhoon Merbok, forecasters said.

The result is a potent system that could bring 3 to 5 inches of relatively warm rain to coastal regions over the weekend, and will impact Alaska’s Arctic coast, Southwest Alaska and, eventually, the Gulf of Alaska coast, forecasters said.

“It derives its energy from the warm sea surface,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Alan Shriver, who spoke from Anchorage. “This is an exceptionally rare event.”

The National Weather Service office in Fairbanks warned the storm could be the strongest in over a decade.

“Impacts may exceed the 2011 Bering Sea Superstorm, and some locations may experience their worst coastal flooding in nearly 50 years,” it said in a tweet. “Peak water levels will persist for 10 to 14 hours before water recedes.”

Buoys have recorded waves of more than 50 feet in the south central Bering Sea, and the lowest pressure ever measured in the sea in September was recorded Friday, but remains unverified, Shriver said.

A view from a web cam in Nome, Alaska, Friday, Sept. 16, 2022.Alaska Ocean Observing System and NOAA via AP

The National Weather Service office in Fairbanks warned the storm could be the strongest in over a decade.

“Impacts may exceed the 2011 Bering Sea Superstorm, and some locations may experience their worst coastal flooding in nearly 50 years,” it said in a tweet Thursday. “Peak water levels will persist for 10 to 14 hours before water recedes.”

Buoys have recorded waves of more than 50 feet in the south central Bering Sea, and the lowest pressure ever measured in the sea in September was recorded Friday, but remains unverified, Shriver said.

The state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management has called for a heightened state of awareness because a “strong storm” was en route.

Hurricane-force gusts — wind speeds greater than 74 mph — have been recorded off Adak Island, part of the Aleutian Islands, Shriver said.

“There hasn’t been a September storm this strong in the northern Bering Sea region in the past 70 years,” tweeted Rick Thoman, a climate specialist with the Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy.

Historic coastal flooding was possible, he said. A coastal flood warning and high wind warning was in effect Friday through Sunday for Alaska’s Southern Seward Peninsula Coast.

High winds and heavy rain can be expected for much of next week on mainland Alaska, federal forecasters said. In fact, the system could come ashore in two or three pulses, beginning overnight, according to the National Weather Service’s extended forecast for Alaska.

Calm on the mainland was possible by the end of the week, forecasters said.

By then, however, Alaska’s winter weather machine may have already started churning out the kind of low pressure systems that are a trademark of December, January, February, and March — with a few days of summer still left on the calendar.

“It could be the start of our busy time of the year,” Shriver said.

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