The weekend was marked by cold sunny days and stunning aurora displays at night, but then the weather took another turn. By Tuesday morning, an east wind was howling and blowing snow sideways. The week started looking like a repeat of the last.
Back-to-back winter storms hit Nome and the region with very strong, screaming winds and accompanying blowing snow. While the first storm on Friday seemed just like a warm up, the second storm hit the region with very strong winds that knocked out power in Wales, ripped buildings apart in Golovin and brought water levels up 6.73 feet over normal. The high winds also pushed away ice cover.
The Bering Sea’s cold pool, a critical part of the seafloor ecosystem, had shrunk to a worrying degree in recent years, but it is continuing to slowly return, according to the latest results of NOAA’s bottom trawl survey. Saffron cod, also called tomcod, seems to be bouncing back after a few bad years, and Arctic cod and blue king crab numbers were also better.
Starting last week, regional residents reported numerous dead seabirds washing up on regional beaches. Alaska Sea Grant Agent Gay Sheffield said there were carcasses of murres, puffins, shearwaters and a kittiwake starting on July 28; in Golovin, Solomon, Nome and a dead Little Diomede.
Last week a musk ox gored a 10-year-old Malamute outside of his family’s man camp near the Old Glacier Creek Road. A visiting veterinarian cared for the injured dog commenting on more frequent conflict between musk ox and dogs and an increase in musk ox population.
Nome and the surrounding area, including St. Lawrence Island, is fighting rabies almost as hard as it is fighting COVID-19. Because of the high level of rabies infection Fish and Game requested assistance from the National Rabies Management Response Program. Their job is to manage a wildlife disease outbreak. Several technicians and a rabies biologist are in Nome reducing the number of foxes.
After alerting the region to very high levels of harmful algal blooms west of Kotzebue and Gambell two weeks ago, scientist onboard the research vessel Norseman II have found even higher numbers of Alexandrium catenella algae cells near Wales, Diomede and Shishmaref.
Puddles on ice, slippery sidewalks and heavy wet snow berms are remnants of a three-day weather event that pummeled Nome and the region. According to UAF Climate Specialist Rick Thoman, “that’s the highest three day total on record for Nome in March in the past 116 years.
On Sunday night, a plump ringed seal pup was spotted on the ice in front of Breaker’s Bar on Nome’s Front Street. UAF Alaska Sea Grant agent Gay Sheffield was called and moved the pup to a more secluded beach. The ice had likely gone out too fast and the mother finished up the normal weaning process on the ice chunks in front of Nome.
Strong south winds hit 71 miles per hour in St. Michael, Shishmaref had its sea ice blown away and the Nome Airport saw 0.64 inches of precipitation – mostly in the form of rain - last weekend. The storm that hit on Saturday, Dec. 18 and continued all day Sunday brought the total precipitation for December thus far to 2.04 inches.
Residents across the Bering Strait have continued to report unusual amounts of foreign trash washing up on their beaches. After months of working on the models, NOAA has been able to pin the source of the debris as likely somewhere southwest of St. Lawrence Island in the Gulf of Anadyr.
Last Tuesday, February 20, residents of Little Diomede have seen the impossible. Instead of looking out at a frozen seascape of ice, they witnessed open water and high surf crashing onto the shores and coming up beyond the high water line.
John Ahkvaluk , 56, a polar bear guard revealed that this is not a good sign for the village. It’s the first time in several years that bears come at this time of the year. “It’s a warning that they got no food out there and they came looking for it here,” he said. After the incident, Luchie Manlangit, the school principal, and I invited John Ahkvaluk to talk to the kids and to share some protocols if polar bear will come around again.
St. Lawrence Island, home to two native villages in the region, is also the summer home of several migratory seabird species, including kittiwakes, auklets, murre and shearwaters. Over the last several years, though, the bird colonies on the island have been shrinking, and no one has been able to determine why.
Back-to-back blizzards with tons of snow and high winds have hammered Nome since late January and the accumulation of a total of 76 inches of snow is now beginning to take a toll on residents.