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Essential Guide to Natural Disasters in Alaska
The state of Alaska occupies most of North America's Arctic Circle. Its harsh, wild terrain consists of tundra, mountains and coasts connected by thousands of rivers running through ice-capped valleys down to the sea.
To an outsider, Alaska is unimaginably vast-but its many natural resources are what make it so desirable. Alaska is home to one of the largest oil reserves in the world, as well as some of the world's most abundant fisheries. It also has huge amounts of clean freshwater and vast forests that are more valuable now than ever considering the state's rapidly changing environment due to global warming.
As global temperatures rise from climate change, so does Alaska's temperature-as well as the severity of weather events that occur each year. The state has actually warmed at twice the rate of the rest of the country over the past 60 years.
This means Alaskans are experiencing everything from milder winters to unusually warm summers, longer growing seasons and rapidly melting permafrost. These changes have brought on a new breed of natural disasters unique to Alaska, from "creeping" coastal erosion caused by thawing ice to fierce wildfires made worse by sputtering snowfall.
Here's how to common natural disasters occur in Alaska - and how you can be ready for them.
Avalanches in Alaska
Mountains in Alaska are a major factor in the cause of avalanches. It's not uncommon for people to see avalanches every year, which is often a result of a weak layer of snow or ice. Avalanches can be triggered by inexperienced climbers, predators and shear conditions. One of the most common causes of an avalanche is from human interaction.
In order to prepare for avalanches, it's important to know the terrain features that will increase your chances of being impacted. This includes slopes that are too steep, cliffs that have loose rocks or any areas with slopes taller than 50 degrees. In addition, you should know about the general history of avalanches in specific regions since relying on what happened years ago may not be reliable.
Drought & Extreme Heat in Alaska
Extreme heat and drought are not as common in Alaska as they are in other parts of the United States. The last occurrence of extreme heat was in 1976 and the last drought happened back in 1952. However, it is important to remember that this has happened before and it could happen again, so preparation is necessary.
If you find yourself asking: "Drought?", then you're not alone - drought sounds like a distant memory for many Alaskans because the last time we had one happen was 1952. But our records show that Alaska had 8 droughts between 1900 and 1975! That's an average of one every six years, which shows how consequential this issue can be for us - both economically and socially.
Earthquakes in Alaska
Alaska has more major earthquake events than any other US state. In fact, the Great Alaska Earthquake of 1964 still remains the strongest earthquake ever recorded in the United States. It is not uncommon for earthquakes to cause shaking or vibration of the ground which can also lead to landslides, avalanches and debris. Coastal Alaska sits along several tectonic plate faults. Earthquakes can happen at any time- day or night, which means that you should always be prepared for this event.
A few precautions that can be taken are knowing what areas are prone to landslides and making an emergency plan. For example, if you live in Talkeetna, you should know about the area around Talkeetna Hill because rockslides are more likely to happen there. It's important to make a plan with your family for what you would do if an earthquake were to happen.
Floods in Alaska
One of the major concerns for those who live in Alaska is also flood events. Unlike droughts, floods happen more often and they can cause a great deal of damage if they occur in inhabited areas. One of the most significant hazards that can be seen with flood events is the amount of debris and sediment it can create. This includes landslides and mudslides. Even though we don't have as many high-intensity flood events that most other parts of the country experience, we still need to prepare for them just in case they happen. Floods are most likely to happen at low elevations because snowmelt adds an excessive amount water to rivers and streams, which causes flooding downstream. Additionally, the rocky river bottom of most Alaskan rivers means that *any* rain event will quickly raise river levels.
Landslides & Debris Flow in Alaska
Landslides are similar to avalanches in Alaska. They can be triggered by human interaction and it's important that you know the terrain features that will cause landslides to happen. This includes steep slopes, unstable ground and cliffs with loose rocks. The likelihood of a landslide happening is less than an avalanche, but like an avalanche, it is important to be prepared for such events.
A debris flow is a type of landslide that has a lot more water associated with. These types of landslides often involve mud, soil and rock and they can happen quickly because of the fast-moving water.
It is important to know about the general history of landslides in specific regions since relying on what happened years ago may not be the best way to prepare for them. Many Alaskan hills & mountains are devoid of trees and have very unstable ground. They are vulnerable not only from heavy rain events, but also very common earthquakes and tremors.
Basic preparedness when dealing with landslide and/or debris flow events means, of course, staying away from the area where the hazard is located. This includes making sure that roads or trails nearby are closed off if it can't be determined that they're safe anymore. It is also important to understand the risk areas around your home or work. This means knowing which areas are prone to landslides and debris flows so that evacuation plans can be established if necessary.
Power Outages in Alaska
The Alaskan power grid is more vulnerable than other States for power outages, due to the extreme distances and remoteness. A power outage can also make a run of the mill natural disaster words. Most of the power lines in Alaska are above ground and because of our unpredictable weather, ice storms create a lot of power outages.
Most power outages happen from November to February when most people experience ice storms. The magnitude of the problem is due to the severity that these winter weather conditions can have on Alaskans. In order to prepare for a power outage, people should make sure they have some supplies on hand, ideally in a "bug out bag" or survival kit. This includes food and water for around 3 days as well as a first aid kit and a battery-powered or hand-cranked radio. Additionally, a generator is almost a basic necessity in Alaska. Most homes and businesses own one, but it's critical to also plan on storing the right amount of fuel for a long-term outage.
Severe Weather & Thunderstorms in Alaska
Alaska oftne experiences severe weather and thunderstorms. Alaska has a lot of lightning due to the storms that happen in our region which can be really bad for people who are outside or near windows. It's important to know what you're doing during these events since an electrically charged strike could be fatal if it happens nearby. Strengthening your home with grounding devices like metal pipes, ground rods and lightning protection systems will help prevent this from happening. There are also several other ways to prepare for these events including knowing how far away you are from the event (so you know when to get inside) and making sure your family is aware of what they should do in case one comes nearby.
Tsunamis in Alaska
Tsunamis are a rare, but very real risk in Alaska. Alaska has a lot of inhabited coastline near common earthquake faults with the threat of underwater landslide triggering a major tsunami wave. These events can cause tsunamis due to the magnitude of the earthquakes. Areas that are at risk include Kodiak, Cook Inlet, Valdez and Prince William Sound.
It is important to know what you should do if there is a tsunami warning (which means you need to get outside or go upstairs into an interior hallway). You should also be prepared to evacuate if it becomes necessary. Since a tsunami hazard can also come with hurricane or storm surge warnings, it is important to pay attention to all signs so you are not caught off-guard.
Even though there are some natural disasters in Alaska that may not affect other regions as much, this does not mean they aren't something to be prepared for. If you're traveling to Alaska or looking to move there, knowing about what you should expect might be helpful in the future!
Volcanoes in Alaska
The coast of Alaska is on the Pacific Ring of Fire and has some of the largest volcanoes in America. It's a notable, if still rare natural hazard. There are several volcanoes in Alaska, but the two most active ones are Mt. Redoubt and Mt. Augustine in southcentral Alaska.
A volcanic eruption from either of these volcanoes can produce very large ash clouds that will affect both domestic and international air travel (especially if it goes through Canada). If there is an eruption, airlines might stop flying for safety reasons or put a ban on certain areas since the ash clouds are hazardous. In that case, disaster relief from "The Outside" will be delayed.
It is important to be prepared for these kinds of events since they will affect the travel industry pretty quickly. You should know what your flight plans are in case you have to change them and be prepared for changes in weather conditions that might pose a hazard during flights. It's also important to note that this can lead to other problems like ash in drinking water, which is why it's important to create a plan for dealing with these issues.
Wildfires in Alaska
Wildfires are a large problem in Alaska, especially during the summer. Wildfires are hard to see if they happen in the forest, which is why it's important to know what to do when there's one nearby. There are several things you can do, some of which include calling 911, getting out of the area or staying indoors.
It is also important to note that some wildfires can produce smoke particles that can get into your respiratory tract and stay for hours. This is hazardous since the fires produce more than 4 million tons of smoke each year!
It's important to have an escape route before a wildfire occurs just in case you need one. You should also get rid of any brush on your property so it doesn't catch on fire easily.
Winter Weather in Alaska
As the Northern-most State, Alaska has incredibly dangerous winter weather. This includes the cold, snow storms and ice. Having an emergency kit is important for these conditions since you can encounter them at any time.
Winter weather in Alaska will often times cause power outages which means you need to be prepared for several days without any help. Make sure your home is winterized so it stays warm enough during freezing temperatures.
Maybe you are reading this article because you are planning a trip to Alaska. Or maybe you live in the state and want to be better prepared for any natural disasters that may occur there. Either way, it is important to know what types of natural disasters can happen in Alaska so you can prepare accordingly.