Receding Sea Ice Helps Storm Hammer Alaska's Coast

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One of the strongest storms to hit western Alaska in almost 40 years tore through several coastal communities Wednesday, tearing up roofs and leaving many residents without power. Winds as high as 89 mph were recorded in some places, and flooding was a concern for many villages already soaked by rain.

Carven Scott, who heads the environment and scientific division of the National Weather Service Alaska Region, tells NPR's Neal Conan that the storm was "an extreme event" on the level of Hurricane Irene, in terms of central pressure.

And although it may help people in the Lower 48 to think of the storm being like a hurricane, a predominantly warm-weather event, Alaska has its own storm season, which runs from about Oct. 1 to April 1.

"We up here in Alaska experience approximately 11 to 14 hurricane-force wind storms ... per year," Scott says.

With most of the winds having subsided, the towns are now dealing with flooding.

"The storm of record that we use as a reference was the 1974 storm," Scott says. Back then, the sea ice was well entrenched, and the pack ice was starting to develop in the Northern Bering Sea, "which helped to ... lay the seas down and mitigate the impacts to Norton Sound," the most vulnerable coastal area, he says.

In that area, the villages sit right at the water's edge — and with the ice developing progressively later each season, Scott says meteorologists worry that storms like the most recent one will become a more regular occurrence.

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