Middle Yukon River Communities Prep for Floods

May 21, 2013

Ice from the Yukon River lies along the bank at eagle after the river broke up there last Friday.
Credit Emily Schwing / KUAC

Fairbanks, AK -  Villages in the middle Yukon River region are bracing for high water and breakup-related flooding as the weather starts to warm in interior Alaska.

Flood watches are in effect for a handful of villages along the Yukon River as this spring’s dramatic breakup continues.  Ed Plumb is a hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Fairbanks.  “The thing is the farther west you go, or downriver," explains Plumb, "the strong the ice is because the western interior generally is colder and it has been colder this spring and particularly this may so the ice hasn’t deteriorated as much as it has farther east or on the Upper Yukon River,” he says.

Plumb predicts a rapid warm up through the coming weekend for the Interior.  He says temperatures into the mid 70’s could mean more water headed for the River.  “We’re gonna see a rapid melting of the snow pack, there’s still a lot of snow on the ground," he says.  "We accumulated a lot in May up at elevation in the mountains, so we’ll start to see a lot of melting and a lot of water being pushed into the river rapidly.”

Roughly 50 miles downriver from Fort Yukon, residents of Beaver are scrambling to prepare for high water. Rhonda Pitka is the Village Chief. “We’re gonna be having a community meeting to discuss possible flooding, how to disinfect water if we have dirty water and how to secure heating tanks and what we’re gonna be doing with dogs should people evacuate," says Pitka, "and we have people moving community freezers to the community hall so if we need to cut electricity we can do that too.”  Pitka says Beaver elders and a handful of children were evacuated to Fairbanks to stay with family.  She says this year’s predicted flooding could be the worst in recorded village history.  “We had a flood here in 1994 but it was nowhere near what we predict will happen.  There’s been big flooding in 1965.  That’s part of our preparation is looking at the areas that have already flooded in those times and having those people evacuate their homes if need be,” she says.

Further down the Yukon, the residents of Tanana are also preparing for an emergency.  On Tuesday afternoon, Everts Air Cargo flew hundreds of pounds of empty sand bags to that community.  

The Yukon River isn’t the only one who may see serious flooding this spring.  River ice hasn’t let loose along the Koyukuk at Bettles yet.  The Kobuk River could also see high water if weather warms significantly.