Storm erodes shoreline at Shishmaref
High winds that pushed water high up on south facing shores of the Seward Peninsula cause shoreline erosion on the Chukchi Sea coast of Shishmaref, last week.
Videos posted on social media showed waves washing over the newly installed seawall that extends toward Shishmaref’s airport. According to residents, the rising water came very close to the school’s apartment duplex, eroded embankments that were not fortified by a seawall, wrecked subsistence meat and fish racks, and came very close to the old cemetery.
In response, the City of Shishmaref, the Native Village Corporation and the Shishmaref Native Corporation stood up an Unified Incident Command. On Nov. 14 a letter was posted to prepare for evacuation or shelter in place. The Mayor Amber Fernandez, in her role as unified incident commander, issued an evacuation warning and instructed residents to pack a small bag of personal belongings in cause an evacuation order is issued. The Shishmaref School was designated as an emergency shelter. The letter said that teams patrolled the community that night and early into the morning. The flood patrol was to notify households if they had to evacuate their homes.
But it didn’t come to that.
According to Andrew Weyiouanna, alternate general manager of the Shishmaref Native Corporation, nobody had to evacuate, the new seawall held up and despite the high water tossing racks and belongings about, no significant damage occurred. At first, it was south winds that pushed the water up and over the embankments, but then the wind turned north and the water already had subsided, he said. Water also rose on the lagoon-side, which was mostly frozen. People had moved their boats to higher ground.
Alaska Climate Specialist Rick Thoman described the meteorological facts of the storm. He said that the strong storm moved from the western Bering Sea to west of the Pribilof Islands at 3 a.m. on Nov. 15, then to near Nunivak Island at 3 p.m. Nov 15 and then to east of Unalakleet at 3 a.m. Nov. 16. At Shishmaref northeast winds increased early morning on Nov. 15 and continued through most of the day Nov. 16, gradually shifting to a northerly direction. “Thankfully, the FAA automated weather station at the airstrip was reporting during this storm,” Thoman said. The peak wind speed was 55 mph late evening on Nov. 15. The average wind speed from 6 a.m. on Wednesday to 6 a.m. on Thursday was 38 mph. Water from the open Chukchi Sea offshore of Shishmaref was pushed by the winds into the largely frozen Shishmaref Lagoon.