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Uncommonly consistent, strong winds rip through Western Alaska

On Front Street, Nome, flags in the wind
Western Alaska is often host to storms in the late autumn. Almost exactly two years ago, a November 2011 Bering Sea storm brought rare levels of coastal flooding – as well as strong winds that stretched taut the flags on Nome's Front Street, seen here.

For the last few days, Nome and the Norton Sound has experienced sustained winds of 50 miles per hour or stronger.

The combination of high pressure across the North Slope and low pressure in the Southern Bering Sea created “screaming” winds, Rick Thoman, a climatologist with the Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy, said.

“That’s not uncommon. What of course is uncommon, is we had that pattern hardly change at all in the past few days. And that led to screaming, screaming winds with mostly sunny skies and some clouds across the Seward Peninsula,” Thoman said on Feb. 3.

Several Norton Sound communities including Unalakleet, saw winds reaching 70 mph on Thursday, according to Thoman.

Graph provided by Rick Thoman with the Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy, used with permission (Feb, 2022).

These windy conditions have started to negatively impact sea ice coverage in the Bering Strait. Based on satellite imagery and observations from residents across the region, more open water has started to appear along coastlines and thicker ice has been pushed around, Thoman said. He noted that sea ice conditions are drastically different in the Bering Strait than they were five days ago.

Ice floes were moving so fast between St. Lawrence Island and Chukotka that you could see the movement on the satellite images, Thoman said. New ice is now re-freezing in some of those areas but that can be affected again when the wind direction changes.

On a brighter note, the worst of the high winds seem to be over. The forecast for Friday and this weekend calls for significantly reduced wind speeds, Thoman said.

“Not going to be calm anytime soon, but I think everywhere at this point, the strongest winds have passed,” Thoman explained. “And as we’re seeing in a number of places, winds will drop down, not calm, but much lower than they were, quite quickly.”

The National Weather Service has forecast winds of 20 to 25 miles per hour in Nome and the Eastern Norton Sound for the weekend of Feb. 5. That is less than half the strength of the wind gusts seen this week in Western Alaska.

Image at top: American flag and Alaska flag seen blowing in the wind on Front Street in Nome. Photo from KNOM, public domain. (2014)

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