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Minor to Severe Erosion Across the Region Caused by Strong Bering Sea Storm

Late last week a strong Bering Sea storm hit the Bering Strait region, bringing winds up to 50mph, blowing snow, and high-water. Some communities saw significant erosion while others were mostly unscathed.

In Nome, summer cabins in the Safety Sound area were threatened by storm surge, while one cabin ended up in the Nome River due to high water. For comparison, during the November storm of 2011 in Nome, sea ice in the Snake River and Port of Nome area was completed devastated, but was still present enough to prevent further flooding.

Across the Strait, Gambell on St. Lawrence Island experienced severe erosion on its west beach. Here’s City Clerk Charlotte Apatiki:

“Five extra feet or so, five to ten extra feet got eaten away by the drumming of the waves and people were finding a bunch of walrus teeth, beached walrus tusks, and a whole bunch of them [tusks/ivory] surfaced that were buried underground as well.”

– Gambell’s City Clerk, Charlotte Apatiki

Apatiki says normally the community sees these types of storms before the beginning of November. Ricky Takak of Shaktoolik, one of the local storm watchers, agrees. With the sea ice forming later than it did historically, Takak is concerned the newly repaired berm in Shaktoolik could be washed out by the next significant storm.

Shaktoolik’s existing berm was reinforced earlier this summer using grant funding. Takak believes that something more substantive like a rock wall would better protect the community from these more common storms. Shaktoolik saw water levels and waves four to eight feet above normal this weekend according to Takak.

In Kotlik, Victor Tonuchuk Jr. the local IGAP coordinator said there wasn’t much damage from the storm locally, no erosion that he noticed, and some minor flooding due to high wind. But, Tonuchuk noted that there is no sea ice in the Yukon River near Kotlik currently either.

Without a presence of historic sea ice across the region, at this point in the season, Apatiki says these storms can be even more damaging as shown by an earlier fall gale.

“You know like a month or so back, all of our water tank roofing from one of the [water] storage tanks blew off. So, I’m surprised no roofing, or anything was blown off during this last storm.”

– Charlotte Apatiki

In Wales, one resident observed over the weekend, “[The storm surge] has gone down some but any rise in wind speed it just swells back up. The sand dunes are being swept away. These have protected us for generations. While this continues the sea ice will be delayed longer into the season due to this storm activity. The sea ice protected our shores against this. Now we have none.”


Dennis Davis of Shishmaref shared photos on social media showing significant erosion of the local road to the community dump. In Elim, residents posted pictures of Moses Point filled with debris and drift wood, to the level where you could hardly see any sand.

Alaska Public Media has more details on the scope of the damage done in Shishmaref.

Though the worst of the storm has passed, the National Weather Service has issued a high surf advisory for most of the Bering Strait region through today. Water levels could again rise four to seven feet higher than the normal level in some parts of the region.

KNOM’s Sophia DeSalvo and Emily Hofstaedter contributed to this report.

Image at top: After a late fall Bering Sea storm, one Nome cabin ended up in the Nome River and was covered by rising water. Photo from Jim Dory, used with permission (2020).

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We acknowledge that KNOM Radio Mission is located on the customary lands of Indigenous peoples. 

Based in the Bering Strait region, KNOM broadcasts throughout the homelands of the Iñupiaq, Siberian Yup’ik, Cup’ik and Yup’ik peoples.

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