Nome sees second rainiest week since the fall of 1935
By Diana Haecker
The last week of July brought nearly record-breaking rain fall to Nome and the region, making it feel more like a bona fide September fall storm than a mid-summer week. Picking berries on the tundra required the wearing of waders and full-on raingear as low-hanging clouds saturated the air and tundra at times. At other times, torrential rains hit roof tops with a steady beat, creating instant puddles and little creeks running downhill on gravel roads.
Last week’s deluge, which began July 24 and lasted through August 1, earns the distinction of being the second highest 7-day rainfall on record, says Climate Specialist Rick Thoman with UAF’s Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy. He said that between July 26 and August 1, a total of 4.83 inches of rain fell, making it the second wettest week in Nome’s 114-year history of weather data. “Normal rainfall in the last week of July is 0.69, so this was five times the normal,” Thoman said. The July 28 rainfall of 1.47 inches was a record for the date. The previous record was 1.13 inches, set in 2012. He said that every day from July 25 through August 1 had 0.10 inches or more of rain.
The all-time record setter remains the rain event with 5.25 inches of rainfall between October 27 - November 2, 1935.
The cause of all that rain last month were several distinct storms and weather fronts with sustained south to southwest winds aloft, he said.
The entire west coast from the Bristol Bay to the western North Slope had a very wet July, while eastern Alaska was drier than normal. Both Nome and Bethel had the wettest July since the 1920s. Kotzebue, where climate observations started in 1930, had not only the wettest July but also the wettest month. “All that is a reflection of the stable weather pattern during the month, with high pressure over Siberia and western Canada and low pressure over the Bering Sea,” Thoman said.
Finally on Tuesday, August 3, the wet spell broke and the sun came out. But what kind of weather will August bring? The Climate Prediction Center outlook for August has equal chances for above or below normal rainfall, Thoman said. “Given that there’s already been a quarter of the August normal rainfall, odds now favor above normal. That said, it does not look to be unusually rainy during the next week.”
Over the past 50 years, summers have trended wetter over most of Seward Peninsula and eastern Norton Sound, but drier toward Kotzebue northward and the western Bering Sea, Thoman said. “That kind of small-scale region differences suggest the chances are more related to variations in storm track and that any climate change factor is still small. However, it is possible that the increases in extreme rainfall (like almost five inches in one week) are more directly related to warming oceans providing more water to the atmosphere through increased evaporation.”
It was not pleasant to be outside, but those who had to go to work faced a rough ride on deteriorating roads to get to the office. Potholes on the first part of the Nome-Council Highway slowed cars down to a crawl. Washouts and damages to culverts rendered some roads impassable, like the Old Glacier Creek Road at Banner Peak, reports DOT Western District Superintendent of Maintenance and Operations Calvin Schaeffer. The Old Glacier Creek Road had to be closed as it was impassable due to washouts and erosion. Schaeffer said the Beam Road at mile 1.5 had sinkhole as a result of failing culvert. Up the Kougarok Road, there were washouts at mile 61 and mile 67. At mile 25 of the Bob Blodgett Nome-Teller Highway, a sinkhole developed in the road. The Council Road, Schaeffer said, fared ok with only pothole damage.
Sinkholes develop as culverts that are buried underneath the road’s surface come apart and water gushes through the gravel, hollowing out the road at the spot where the culvert’s integrity is compromised. The gravel then collapses and a sinkhole appears.
“All the roads need grading,” Schaeffer said. “But you can’t go out and grade during the rain event, that would destroy the roads.” First, Schaeffer sent out a crew to fix the sinkhole at the Beam Road, and they tackled the worst spots on the Old Glacier Creek Road. Schaeffer said on Monday that the road is closed to traffic.
He expects that the highway crew has a minimum of three weeks of grading the roads to deal with the rain damage. He estimates another two to three weeks of damage repair on the Kougarok Road due to sloughing of the gravel. He noted that the entire Teller Road is in need of repair and that repairs, maintenance and culvert replacements are overdue. As for fixing the road after the rain event, it would take three to four weeks to get the Teller Road into decent shape, he said. The DOT is also still working on repairing the Nome-Council Road past Safety from last year’s fall storms. But grading, repairing and maintaining roads takes manpower and that is the holdup as the Nome DOT is understaffed.
The DOT highway crew is down to only three workers and one foreman. A fully staffed DOT O&M highway crew consists of six workers and one foreman. “We have six vacant positions,” said Schaeffer. Those six include DOT airport positions. “But we’re not getting any applicants.” He said state wages can’t compete with wages paid by private companies to equipment operators. The wage disparity is up to $10 per hour.
To be able to grade all roads after last week’s rain event, Schaeffer said, he will have to hire local contractors to get the job done.
Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game area manager Jim Menard reported that the heavy rain and resulting high water took out all fish counting projects in the area. “High water has knocked out all salmon escapement projects,” Menard said in his report. “The crews at the floating weirs were able to count for several days after all the counting tower crews were no longer able to count, but extremely high and murky water has prevented any counts since last Friday.”