Valdez Rain Event – Sept 12-14, 2014

(New Video Below) If you have been around Valdez the past few years one can’t help but note our wild weather fluctuations.  From the 2006 Flood that wiped out Keystone Canyon to the “Damalanche” last January, it’s been all Valdez extreme when it comes to weather.  Few place in the world have had the variety of events that we have had, and they are neat to experience just  as I did this morning in Keystone Canyon as a witness to the power of water.

Since the Damalanche was cleaned up in January, the following six months were the driest six month period in Valdez history.  Fairbanks and Anchorage are having their wettest year on record.  We are on pace for our driest year.  Then, on August 1,  it began raining in Valdez and has not stopped.  Last Tuesday there were ominous signs in some of the modeling I obsess about, especially some precipitation values.  I notified the City of Valdez (Keeney) of the potential for a rain event for the upcoming weekend that morning at 10am.  At 4pm that day, the NWS issued their first public statement of concern over the remains of Typhoon Fenchun.  By Saturday, the satellite showed an impressive “double” comma low in the Bering Sea and a tropical tap to the mid-Pacific pointing right at the eastern Chugach.  With the ground saturated, rain began in earnest Friday evening and finally abated this morning.

Some things to note about weather events and our declining abilities as a community to be warned for such events.  Our remoteness does imposer us to overcome these historic events as we have proven in the past, but we could use some help warning us when the things get to critical mass.

1.  The severely reduced staff at the National Weather Service.  They used to be open 24 hours a day.  They are now 8-5, closed  on weekends.  Who do you call or who calls us?  Does the NWS in Anchorage have enough information without the office in Valdez so as to be aware of rapidly changing conditions be it snow or rain events?  I don’t thing they do.  The office is scheduled to close on October 1 leaving Valdez with no forecaster after continuous operation since 1972.  The NWS used to have 6 full-time employees staffing the office as recently as 5 years ago.  This seemed to miss the City of Valdez’s legislative priority list as no one really noticed.  That might change this winter.

2.  The NWS Hydrology folks have installed a gauge in Keystone Canyon.  The information is available on-line.  The problem is the data stream only sends the reading every so often.  A glance at the chart at 9am this morning showed the last data at 7am.  This is unacceptable when the threat of flash floods exist.  The river rose three feet in 24 hours by the way.  The four Seward gauges give updates constantly as do many in the State of Alaska.   (We also need a gauge in Mineral Creek.)

3.  We are well aware of the glitches in the State Of Alaska’s local RWIS system.  It was broken during the Damalanche.  This morning was no different.  The DOT 12-Mile camera in the canyon has been down for weeks and it could have been helpful as flash flood potential was on the rise this morning.  This is one of the best tools for observing the river as one can depend on a number of “tell-tales” in view as to the state of the river.  While the camera was down, the instruments did record impressive precipitation amounts, though how accurate is anyone’s guess.

None of these things were in operation as Valdez was once again threatened by a flash flood.  Current projections with regard to global warming should serve as a warning that these events will happen more frequently as the atmosphere warms and collects more moisture.  Valdez should be more aware of weather and fixing a few issues such as the items above will help in general community preparedness.

(Avalanche icebergs?  Where’s Bruce Tremper when you need him.)

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