by Mike Flunker, Editor-in-Chief, AJ Schultz, Staff Writer, and Teigan Akagi, Staff Writer, UAS Whalesong

It may be months before the clean up is complete in the Western Alaska coastal communities that bore the brunt of a severe Sept. 16 storm that grew from the remnants of Typhoon Merbok.  

The Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management said more than 1,000 miles of coastline were hit. The unprecedented weather event caused flooding and high winds, including storm surges of up to 7 feet in some communities, including Deering, Kotzebue, Shishmaref and Kivalina, according to the National Weather Service.  

UAS students from the region also felt the effect. The weekend of the storm, Mackenzie Goodwin from Nome waited to hear from her family and friends. She said she was so worried that she couldn’t focus enough to do her school work, a fact she shared by email with her professors. 

Luckily, her family’s camp was left mostly untouched by the water, but others were not as fortunate. She said many people lost their generational camps. 

Nome’s Front Street buildings were surrounded by water and roads were destroyed. Goodwin said some roads acted as rivers. 

“A house lifted off its foundation and floated until it was stopped by a bridge,” she said.

The Pacific Ocean storm formed late in the season in an area where few typhoons originate. The storm’s rapid strengthening at such high latitude was due to surface sea temperatures far warmer than normal, according to Brian Brettschnieder, Anchorage-based climatologist and blogger. 

“This is a really important wakeup call for Alaska,” said Alaska climate scientist Rick Thoman in an interview with Alaska Public Media. “It’s very likely going forward, over years, decades, we will see more storms in that part of the Pacific.”

Thoman is with the Internatioal Arctic Research Center at UAF.  He said more and more storms are likely to show up, requiring the state and federal governments get better at communicating risk to rural Alaska communities.  

“That might mean evacuating vulnerable people. Because if you wait until it’s certain that there’s a problem, it’s too late,” Thoman said in an article for The Conversation, an online news source produced by researchers and academics. 

UAS Call to Action

In a “call to action” letter to the UAS community, Chancellor Karen Carey reached out to students, faculty, and staff who were affected by the typhoon. Although UAS cannot donate money as a whole to the efforts helping West Coast Alaska, many individual staff and faculty members have donated.   

“If you can’t, at least reach out to them and let them know you’re thinking of them,” Carey said in an interview with the Whalesong.  She said it was important that students know diasters can happen anywhere. 

 “We need to come together as human beings, I think, and help one another and be there for each other,” the chancellor said. “One of the things that I really appreciate about being in Alaska is that the people really have that mindset. They really wanna help others and make sure that people are okay.” 

If you are interested in donating to the relief, these agencies are working in the hard-hit communities: 

Alaska Salvation Army: Alaska Division (salvationarmy.org)