Strong winds cause power outages, minor damage around Bristol Bay

Dec 30, 2015

Most severe damage appears to be in Togiak, where the last two warm winter storms have eroded the seawall.

With the bay not freezing the last three winters, storms have ripped earth away from the Togiak seawall. "It's starting to collapse," said city administrator Darryl Thompson after two harsh storms slammed the coast in less than a week.
Credit City of Togiak

KDLG: A pretty good blow passed through Bristol Bay Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, leaving minor damage and some power outages in its wake. East side communities had sustained winds around 60 to 70 mph, with gusts over 100 mph, through the overnight hours.

The system intensified as it crossed the Bay towards the northern coastline, the southeast winds arriving with the morning high tide. 

Credit NWS Anchorage

The extreme winds passed through the area by early Wednesday afternoon, but gusty southwest winds of 50 to 65 mph were still in the forecast till the evening. The National Weather Service kept a high surf advisory in place until 4 p.m.

How hard did the wind blow during the storm? The National Weather Service tracked the conditions and recorded the highest gusts. KDLG News spoke with NWS Anchorage chief meteorologist Sam Albanese Wednesday morning around 8 a.m.  He said the highest wind speeds were recorded at notoriously windy stations.

"Coville, kind of due east of King Salmon, in the Aleutian Range up in Katmai National Park, peaked out at 108 miles an hour overnight. Another one to note was Pfaff Mine, a little higher up in elevation at 2000 feet. They were 101 miles an hour. Then there's Fourpeaked, which is on the Shelikof side of the mountains. They're at 1000 feet in elevation, and peaked out at 122 miles an hour."

The Orthodox Church in Kokhanok sustained damage to the siding, roof, and cemetery. One of the steeples was missing in the morning.
Credit Gary Nielsen

Those strong winds from Pfaff Mine were funneling right down through to communities on the south shore of Iliamna Lake. Kokhanok's Gary Nielsen offered an update Wednesday morning.

"It was a wild night last night," he said. "Conservative estimate would be 100 to 120 miles an hour out of the east. We didn't get to bed till three or four I guess, waiting on the roof to go, but it didn't go, thank goodness. There was a meter base or two ripped off the wall, leaving some houses without power. Several skiffs flipped over, some were damaged. Trees were knocked down. My son was down at his house last night and the top of a tree broke off and just narrowly missed him, about twenty foot of tree."

As the storm blew west across the Bay, it hit the coastline just as the tide was up.

"We had a pretty good tide this morning, with the winds behind it, cause the winds came out of the south instead of the east," said Dillingham harbor master Jean Barret, assessing the situation at sunrise. "That pushes everything up into the harbor, and I imagine all the ice has probably turned into slush."

Around 10 a.m. several containers at the dock were blown over, and the City asked residents to steer clear of the area. Crews were working to set those upright Tuesday morning.

"I would imagine they're all empty containers, because we don't keep anything in them in the winter time," said Barrett, not expecting much damage.

One stack of containers at the Dillingham dock tipped as south winds pummeled Bristol Bay's northern coast Wednesday morning.
Credit KDLG

But in Togiak the winds and surge of water and ice have wreaked havoc on the seawall. City administrator Darryl Thompson said while some of the problems began during last year's similarly warm winter, this storm and the one on Christmas day have caused major new damage.

The 30 year old seawall is no longer holding up to the eroding coastline, worsened by a bay that hasn't stayed frozen the past two winters. The low lying areas of the village are at risk of flooding without the seawall, which may cost several million dollars to repair.
Credit City of Togiak

"For about a thousand feet of our seawall, on the north end of town, the beach has eroded away and the gravel is gone. One tide, in one storm at 70 knots, took out three feet of gravel from in front of the seawall. Basically, it is starting to collapse," he said.

Thompson was filling out state forms to declare a disaster situation, and said the community is not safe without a functioning seawall. Repairing it will be costly.

"I'm thinking right now $2 million would be a start," he said. "The gravel has moved from the north half of the village to the south half, and it's buried the south seawall. That we can reclaim by bulldozing out that material and exposing the base again. But the beach that used to be on the north side of the village is basically gone. This seawall has been here 30 years, and it's held up really well, and we were pretty proud of it."

Power was out Wednesday morning and utilities were running on backup generators. School buses were pre-positioned to evacuate residents to higher ground if necessary. The tide Wednesday evening will be larger, and Togiak is keeping emergency resources ready.

Other communities reported minor damage with a few windows out, trees down, parts of roofing pulled off, and fluctuating power.   

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A door from the top of the VOR station near Kanakanak Hospital blew off Wednesday morning.
Credit KDLG