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Bering Sea storm knocks out reporting from FAA, weather service stations

Several weather stations in Western Alaska were offline Monday and Tuesday due to a significant spring storm in the Bering Sea over the weekend. Several weather stations in Western Alaska were offline Monday and Tuesday due to a significant spring storm in the Bering Sea over the weekend. 

Several weather stations in Western Alaska were offline Monday and Tuesday due to a significant spring storm in the Bering Sea in mid-May.

According to Rick Thoman at University of Alaska Fairbanks, weather stations in Savoonga, Wales, Shishmaref, Deering, Golovin, Koyuk, Emmonak and Gambell transmitted just one observation over the weekend.  

All those sites, except for Deering, are operated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Deering’s station is operated by the National Weather Service

Thoman says the FAA weather stations are plagued with non-reporting, So they might be collecting data, but it’s not getting out to the public. 

“When we have these significant storms like we had this weekend, it highlights the importance of that missing data,” Thoman said. “We have nothing from St. Lawrence Island. We have stations like Shishmaref that have been offline for months. We have some that are intermittently offline like Teller and St. Michaels.”

The FAA was not available for comment prior to the airing of this story.

Thoman said, in his experience in dealing with the FAA, the agency doesn’t see a problem with stations not reporting data in real-time via two of the three ways it is disseminated.

That includes a dedicated radio frequency for pilots that provides a continuous feed of the current weather observations, by picking up the phone and dialing a telephone number with an automated reading of the current weather, and on the Internet. 

“By the FAA’s definition, if either the phone or the on-frequency is reporting, their job is done,” Thoman said. 

Thoman said not having accurate, up-to-date information can affect boating, flying and life in general in Western Alaska. 

“When we have this really stormy weather, I mean we had wind gusts in excess of 50 miles an hour through the Bering Strait, not having that information has a real impact to weather forecasts, to people’s activities,” Thoman said.

Some weather stations in Western Alaska, including the one in Emmonak, have not been reporting information for months.

As of Tuesday, May 16, the Gambell station resumed sending data.

Image at top: The Federal Aviation Administration weather reporting station in Dillingham. Photo courtesy Rick Thoman/UAF

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