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High winds across Bristol Bay knock out power and usher in subzero wind chills

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Katherine Andrew
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The National Weather Service issued a wind chill advisory until Tuesday morning for interior Bristol Bay, including Koliganek, New Stuyahok and as far south as King Salmon. The wind chill could drop as low as 45 degrees below zero in some places.

Strong winds swept across Bristol Bay in the first days of the new year, knocking power out across the region and ushering in frigid temperatures. Wind gusts above 60 mph have been recorded in communities around the region.

The National Weather Service issued a wind chill advisory until Tuesday morning for interior Bristol Bay, including Koliganek, New Stuyahok and as far south as King Salmon. The wind chill could drop as low as 45 degrees below zero in some places.

Snow billowed across Aleknagik Lake, creating deep drifts in some places and exposing bare ice in others.

Katherine Andrew lives on Hyak Island, and she didn’t leave the house for two days after the wind picked up over the weekend. She said she could hear spruce trees falling on Sunday night.

“This morning when I woke up and I looked out on the lake, I could tell that some people’s belongings had blown into either the lake or onto the ice,” she said.

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Credit Brian Venua
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Dillingham's boat harbor. January 2022.

That included her father’s sled.

“I asked my dad, ‘Is that your sled way out there in the middle?’ He said that was his, and that he was going to get it," Andrew said, laughing. "Yeah, my tarp’s probably gone.”

About 30 miles away, the community of Clark’s Point had peak winds of up to 66 mph on Sunday.

Fire Chief Steve Aikins said internet and landlines from the regional utility, Nushagak Cooperative, have been out since Sunday.

“We’re just experiencing extremely high winds, and we’re just knocking on wood that we still have power and we still have our water plant working," he said. "I haven’t heard anybody out driving around cause it’s just dangerous.”

Alaska Energy Authority usually provides remote technical support to the community’s power plant, but it can’t without internet. And with winds this strong, as of Monday afternoon, people haven't been able to fly in to help fix the problems.

“A GCI crew tried to come down here and do stuff — they’re the subcontractors for GCI — and I don’t think they’ll make it,” Aikins said.

University of Alaska Fairbanks climate specialist Rick Thoman said the winds are the result of the difference between very strong high pressure along the North Slope and low pressure in the Gulf of Alaska, combined with the cold temperatures of the interior.

“That cold air, as it moves south, actually gets accelerated as it bumps up against the Wood River Mountains and is moving south," Thoman explained. "That actually causes the air to pick up speed. And that's why winds have been so strong over the last couple of days in the region.”

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NWS Anchorage tweeted this update on Sunday, Jan. 2 at 8:01 p.m.

The National Weather Service reported peak winds of 66 miles per hour in Dillingham. Those high winds knocked the power out across the area Saturday evening, and some residents didn’t have reliable power until Monday morning. 

Nushagak Cooperative said the entire system went down on Saturday evening, and power was restored intermittently throughout Sunday. In an update around 3:30 a.m. Monday morning it said that power was restored throughout the service area. If you are still experiencing an outage, call Nushagak at 907-842-5251.

The winds are expected to decrease after Monday. It’s not as cold as it was in November, continuing winds will keep temperatures down throughout the week.

Correction: Clark's Point experienced peak winds of up to 66 mph on Sunday, not 67 mph.

Contact the author at izzy@kdlg.org or 907-842-2200.

Izzy Ross is the news director at KDLG, the NPR member station in Dillingham. She reports, edits, and hosts stories from around the Bristol Bay region, and collaborates with other radio stations across the state.