What does the recent big storm in Alaska mean for us?

The massive storm that struck the west coast of Alaska last Tuesday and Wednesday was truly an amazing meteorological event. The entire Bering Sea coast was under the threat of hurricane-force winds, with many areas facing heavy snow and zero visibility.

Importantly, this storm is able to exert hurricane force winds over a much larger area than the typical tropical storm. Thus, the aerial extent of the strong winds in this beast far exceeds that in all but the strongest hurricanes.

Many of the towns along the west coast are vulnerable to coastal erosion under such conditions, especially this year when the sea ice, usually in place by this time of year and working as a natural breakwater, has not yet been established.

In fact, a similarly strong storm struck the coast in mid-November 1974 and was accompanied by high tides timed perfectly with its arrival. In that case, the substantial sea ice was able to spare places like Nome and Kivalina from devastating damage from coastal flooding and erosion.

To the extent that the late establishment of the sea ice barrier is related to the increase in global average temperature, storms like this one will pose greater threats to population centers on the Alaskan west coast in a warmer climate.

For us in Wisconsin, an echo of this storm may yet be heard. In its wake in Alaska, the first really frigid air from over the North Pole will slide into Alaska and the Yukon by the end of this week. That cold air will then funnel southeastward during the following week potentially setting the stage for a cold second half of November in the central United States.

Category: Severe Weather
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