Back-to-back storms bring screaming winds to Nome and region
By Diana Haecker
Back-to-back winter storms hit Nome and the region with very strong, screaming winds and accompanying blowing snow. While the first storm on Friday seemed just like a warm up, the second storm hit the region with very strong winds that knocked out power in Wales, ripped buildings apart in Golovin and brought water levels up 6.73 feet over normal.
Rick Thoman, climate specialist with the Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy at UAF said after a month of comparative cold but quiet weather, two storms moved through the northwest Bering Sea and brought the first widespread blizzard conditions of the season.
The first storm center remained quite far west as it tracked from the Sea of Okhotsk northward, explained Thoman. The associated weather front moved to about the Bering Strait. Southeast winds and warmer air moved north with this front and brought the Friday snow. Nome Public Schools declared a snow day with students working at home on their blizzard packets. Airlines ceased operations, businesses closed early, cabs stopped running and the NEST shelter opened early and closed late in the mornings.
A second and much stronger storm tracked northwestward just off the Russian coast from the Kamchatka Peninsula to the Gulf of Anadyr before crossing Chukotka and moving into the Chukchi Sea and drifting north to west of Utqiaġvik. “This storm was very strong, reaching a minimum pressure of 28.02 early Sunday morning when the center was about 100 miles west of Gambell. This is in the same league as the 2011 Bering Sea Superstorm,” said Thoman. This storm produced widespread high winds from the Kuskokwim Delta to the western North Slope. Wind sensors on automated stations failed at many locations west of Golovin during the strongest winds. Following readings are the “strongest reported”, which are likely to not be the highest that occurred, said Thoman. Tin City recorded 99 mph winds at 3:38 a.m. Sunday. Thoman infers that 100mph gusts at Wales and Little Diomede are reasonable to assume, but have not been measured. Savoonga measured 78 mph at the Marine Exchange of Alaska before it went offline around midnight. Teller saw 74 mph winds, Kotzebue and Gambell recorded 70 mph, White Mountain and St. Michael 69 mph, Brevig Mission 64 mph, Golovin 61mph, Shishmaref 59 mph, Nome 57 mph and Unalakleet 51 mph.
The maximum storm surge at Nome was just over five feet in the afternoon and evening of December 5.
Pictures posted on social media showed overflow creeping up on the lagoon-side of Shishmaref and strong winds had blown out the sea ice on the Chukchi Sea facing coastline, showing open water. In Golovin, sea water rose onto the old airstrip and the metal sides of a newly constructed metal building were ripped off. Wales saw power outages from high winds. In Kotlik, sea water pushed into at least one house.
Volunteer snow data collector KNOM recorded 6 inches of snow before the storms and 17 inches on Tuesday morning. As the National Weather Service ramps down operations in rural areas and only an automated system collects snow data, may be incorrect. “The automated observation at the Nome Airport measure a bit over half inch of precipitation —melted snow—, which is quite likely to be too low because of the high winds,” said Thoman. The ASOS reported blizzard conditions, defined as a quarter mile or less visibility and winds gusting 35 mph or more— for four hours on December 4 and five hours on December 6.
What’s in store for the rest of December?
“The central and southern Bering are likely to be much stormier for the remainder of December than in November,” Thoman said. “However, the best guess is that the northern Bering Sea region will only be grazed by most of these storms and will stay on the cold side, though it’s unlikely to be as cold as it was in the second half of November. However, there is a lot of uncertainty. If the storm track is only a little bit further north, it could be quite stormy. Conversely, if the storm track is a bit further south we could stay in the ice box,” he said.