“We don’t routinely preposition assets for a storm,” said Coast Guard spokeswoman Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis, but “we haven’t had a storm of this magnitude for a while. This particular storm is expected to have as much as Category 2 hurricane-force winds sustained.”
By late Tuesday night, National Weather Service meteorologist Stephen Kearney in Fairbanks said the front of the storm had reached Nome, bringing 60 mph winds, blowing snow and visibility of just a quarter mile.
Kearney said Wales, 80 miles northwest of Nome, was seeing 75 mph gusts, which is hurricane strength, while the center of the storm was reported over St. Lawrence Island.
Winds from the current storm were expected to push large amounts of water into Norton Sound, raising sea levels 10 feet above normal through today.
That will cause beach erosion and flooding and may push Norton Bay ice on shore, forecasters said, especially with the lack of sea ice.
The last time forecasters saw something similar was in November 1974, when Nome took the brunt of the storm also. That surge measured more than 13 feet, pushing beach driftwood above the level of the previous storm of its type in 1913.
State officials warned residents to secure home heating fuel tanks in case seawater flooded into communities. Making communities more vulnerable than in past years is the lack of shore-fast sea ice, said Jeff Osinsky, the National Weather Service’s regional warning coordinator.
“The presence of sea ice can sometimes act to protect coastal areas,” he said.
With winds expected from the southwest, south-facing communities could be especially vulnerable, he said.
Air Station Kodiak had already deployed a helicopter to Cold Bay on the Alaska Peninsula during the Bristol Bay red king crab fishery, which has almost reached its limit. Another helicopter from the cutter Sherman, which is patrolling the area, has been sent to Dutch Harbor.
In response to the storm’s approach, Francis said a helicopter was sent to King Cove, on the other side of Cold Bay from the settlement of the same name.
“It’s just a response crew and the helicopter,” she said. No maintenance crew was deployed.
“We have crews out of sector Anchorage that can also be deployed along northwestern Alaska or the Seward Peninsula as necessary,” Francis said.
With helicopters ready for any trouble, the cutter Sherman was also busy. Early Tuesday, the 143-foot trawler Rebecca Irene, homeported in Seattle, reported that one of its engines had died 138 miles northwest of Unimak Pass in the Bering Sea.
With the storm approaching and conditions degrading, the Sherman diverted to the Rebecca Irene.
“Twenty crew have been removed to the Sherman, and 14 remain aboard the vessel,” Francis said Tuesday afternoon.
A tug had been dispatched from Dutch Harbor to assist, Francis said, and “I know they are able to make some way on the one engine they do have.”
“The vessel is prepared for an emergency with survival suits and life raft accommodations for all the people aboard, but we are sending the Sherman as a pre-emptive action to further ensure the safety of the crew,” said Capt. Daniel Travers, Coast Guard District 17’s chief of incident management.
The storm is expected to remain well north of Kodiak Island, where rain and snow showers are expected throughout today, tapering off toward Thursday.
Contact Mirror editor James Brooks at email@example.com.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.