Think You’re Chilly? Arctic Storm Has Hurricane Force Winds

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Alaska is under the gun today as an extremely strong storm system impacts especially the western half of the state. The worst of the weather will remain well west of some of the most populated areas like Fairbanks and Anchorage. Unfortunately, some of the hardest hit areas include the cities of Nome, Point Hope and Bethel. The storm system is expected to track northward today from the northern Bering Sea into the Chukchi Sea this evening into early Thursday.

Orange: Blizzard Warning  

Pink: Winter Storm Warning

Purple: Storm Warning

Dark Green: Coastal Flood Warning

Here’s a list of Watches/Warnings currently in effect for western Alaska. Image: NWS

Along the west coast of Alaska today, strong south-southeasterly winds of 50 to 70 mph can be expected along the entire coast with wind gusts as high as 85 mph. Sea levels are expected to rise throughout the day with major coastal flooding and severe beach erosion likely along the coast from Cape Romanzof to the Bering Strait.

Blizzard conditions are also expected and there’s currently a Blizzard Warning in effect for the Chukchi Sea Coast, including Point Hope, until 9 PM AKST this evening. The heaviest snow and strongest winds are expected to continue through the afternoon. Visibilities will be reduced to near zero in blizzard conditions. A Heavy Freezing Spray Warning  is in effect through late tonight and a Hurricane Force Wind Warning is in effect through early Thursday from Wales to Cape Thompson. Southerly winds up to 86 mph with seas up to 23 feet can be expected. Winds will decrease to 63 mph tonight with 16 ft seas subsiding to 12 feet. Blowing snow will reduce visibilities to less than 1 mile. As this system moves into the Chukchi Sea later today into early Thursday, conditions will gradually improve across the area.

 Current satellite image of the storm. Image: NOAA

ImpactWeather’s StormWatch Staff Meteorologist Andrew Artzer has the latest forecast for western Alaska (from north to south):

Bethel Area:

Periods of light to moderate snowfall through the day with temperatures remaining around the freezing mark. Only light snowfall accumulations are expected due to the temperatures hovering around freezing. Southerly winds between 25-35 mph with gusts up to 45-50 mph can be expected through the day today, which could lead to near-white out conditions at times. The snow and the winds should gradually begin to taper this evening and into the overnight hours allowing for conditions to begin improving across the region.

Nome Area:

Blizzard conditions will be likely through the day with periods of snow expected.   Extremely strong southerly winds between 40-60 mph (already some reports of 40+ mph sustained winds in the Nome area early this morning) with gusts up to 75 mph will be likely through the day, which will lead to whiteout conditions and also leading to significant drifting of the snow. Up to 6-10 inches of snowfall is expected across the Nome area by tonight, with higher amounts likely across the higher elevations outside of Nome. The strong winds could also lead to minor roof and tree damage across the region, as well as power outages. Gradually improving conditions are expected tonight and tomorrow as the storm system pulls away from the region.  Temperatures through the day should remain just below freezing, generally between 25-32F.   In addition, flooding will be likely right along the coast due to extremely high waves up to 6-9 feet breaking along the coast this morning. Wave heights along the coast should gradually begin to decrease overnight and into Thursday also, but the coastal flooding could linger all the way into the day tomorrow before improving on Friday.

Nome in winter, 2005.  Brrrrrr!  Photo: firetrench.com

Point Hope Area:

This area (NW Alaska) will be the area hardest hit by this storm. A very dangerous blizzard is expected to continue through the day and into this evening. East to southeast winds between 50-70 mph (there are already reports of 50+ mph winds around Point Hope early this morning) with gusts up to 85-90 mph will be likely through the day today with the winds expected to slowly decrease tonight and returning closer to normal values during the day tomorrow.  Periods of moderate to heavy snowfall can be expected through the day before gradually tapering late tonight and into the day tomorrow. The extremely strong winds combined with the snow through the day today will lead to whiteout conditions, along with significant drifting of the snow (with drifts up to 5-9 feet possible). Please note that winds of this magnitude today also will likely lead to widespread wind damage along with power outages. Improving conditions are expected tomorrow and Friday across the region, but that portion of Alaska may be inaccessible over the next 2-4 days due to the severity of the storm.  Temperatures in the 10s to low 20s are expected today and tomorrow, with wind chills well below zero.

Further south and east across southern and southeastern Alaska, no significant effects from this storm system are expected, with a much weaker system expected to track eastward across the northern Gulf of Alaska late today and into tomorrow before pushing into southeast Alaska and northwest British Columbia late in the day tomorrow.

Anchorage Area:

Snow will be likely this afternoon and into tonight before tapering tomorrow morning.  No significant winds are expected with total snowfall amounts between 2-4 inches expected across most of the city, with higher amounts likely on the far eastern portions of town where the elevation is higher. The snow may lead to slightly hazardous travel conditions late this afternoon through early tomorrow also. Temperatures in the 10s and 20s are expected today and tomorrow.

Fairbanks Area:

Temperatures will be very cold both today and tomorrow between 5-15F, with lows overnight around -5F. Some snow will be possible tomorrow but nothing particularly unusual for the area with light accumulations possible.

Juneau Area:

Typical November conditions will prevail over the next few days with rain likely late tonight and into tomorrow with temps hovering in the upper 30s to low/mid 40s.

Strong low pressure systems frequently hit Alaska, but this one is different because of the track and timing. Typically this time of year, ice hasn’t had enough time to form because it hasn’t been cold enough for very long. The ice helps protect the shore from flooding from storms like this. Therefore, flooding will be a big concern because of the storm surge expected, not to mention the high winds and heavy snow also impacting the area today. Conditions will gradually improve across the region later tonight into tomorrow as this system lifts northward away from the region.

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