DE-ICING— NJUS made sure power lines along the Beam road are free of ice on Friday, Feb. 24.

Back-to-back blizzards hit region with high winds and snow

By Megan Gannon
Life in Nome slowed during consecutive blizzards over the last week. On the evening of Monday, Feb. 20, the last of the Iron Dog snowmachiners on the trail made it to their checkpoint in town under snowglobe-like conditions. The next day schools and businesses were closed, and just as everyone started digging out of the heavy, wet snow, the storm picked back up on Thursday morning.  
The weekend was marked by cold sunny days and stunning aurora displays at night, but then the weather took another turn. By Tuesday morning, an east wind was howling and blowing snow sideways. The week started looking like a repeat of the last.
Gusts were up to 55 miles per hour. Snow accumulations up to 10 inches were expected. The National Weather Service put out a blizzard warning that was in effect for much of the Bering Strait region until Wednesday morning. Flights were canceled again. Due to the unsafe conditions, Nome Public Schools closed, as did several other offices and businesses, from the courthouse and Kawerak’s Nome office to the AC store and Subway.
These big swings in weather are not surprising in a La Niña winter like the one we’re having, said Rick Thoman, an Alaska climate specialist with the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
“Very changeable weather certainly is part of what we expect,” Thoman said. “So while the details are always unknown, the fact that we’ve had these big flip-flops, from the rain and warmth in early December, and then sustained cold in late January and February, then a big warm up—all of that is par for the course for La Niña winters.”
Thoman was eager to see what the storms would do to the sea ice, especially because the sea ice strongly influences the so-called cold pool at the bottom of the Bering Sea. When sea ice melts, very cold water sinks to the seafloor, creating a frigid layer that is thought to be a critical part of the ecosystem.
Without the ice getting close to St. Paul, the bottom water of the Bering Sea is sure to be warmer, Thoman said. However, he noted that there is more ice this winter than during the record low years of 2018 and 2019 that caused the cold pool to shrink to unprecedented levels.
As Thoman and other experts watch storms passing over the Bering Strait region, they often lack direct observational data. The weather stations that federal agencies like the National Weather Service and the Federal Aviation Administration use to monitor conditions are not reliably recording information from every location, especially in villages. While one can call up individual weather stations to find out current conditions like temperature and average wind speed, those conditions are not being archived online. For example, Thoman said the federal weather station in Gambell has not recorded any data on conditions there since October of 2021.
“In general, those weather stations are actually working, but they’re not communicating with the outside world,” Thoman said. “So without a lot of effort, people like forecasters can’t really see what’s going on.”
 Thoman notes that weather models are really no replacement for on-the-ground observations. In Wales, for example, Kingigin Mountain has a huge effect on the winds, Thoman said, but it’s too small to show up in global weather models. “There is really no substitute for observations,” he said. “Yes, the models can give you an idea, that’s what we make forecasts from, but weather models are not the same as observation.”


The Nome Nugget

PO Box 610
Nome, Alaska 99762

Phone: (907) 443-5235
Fax: (907) 443-5112

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