Storm Surges in the Region of Western Alaska

Warren Blier Department of Atmospheric Sciences, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California

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Stanley Keefe Weather Forecast Office, National Weather Service—Alaska Region, Anchorage, Alaska

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Wilson A. Shaffer Office of Systems Development, Techniques Development Laboratory, National Weather Service, Silver Spring, Maryland

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Sung C. Kim School of Marine Science, Virginia Institute of Marine Science, College of William and Mary, Gloucester Point, Virginia

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Abstract

Within the period of the historical record there have been several occurrences of extensive damage from storm-surge-related coastal flooding in the region of Nome, Alaska. The most recent of these events, although by no means the most destructive, occurred in association with the storm of 5–6 October 1992. Despite the small population of Nome (approximately 4000 people), total damage costs exceeded $6 million.

The research into the nature and causes of such flooding events has focused on this October 1992 case. The authors have, however, also examined a weaker, shorter-duration event that occurred on 20 August 1993 and, for contrast, a case in September 1993 where a sustained offshore wind transported water out of Norton Sound. Tide gauge data from Nome were used to quantitatively assess the associated changes in water level, and meteorological analyses were utilized to examine the associated synoptic-scale circulations and their evolution.

In addition, numerical modeling experiments were conducted using an extratropical storm surge model. (A version of this model is operational for the east coast of the United States.) Hindcasts of phase and amplitude for the October 1992 and September 1993 events agreed well with observations. Simulations of the shorter-duration August 1993 event were in poorer agreement with observations and indicate several possibilities for future improvement of the performance of the surge model: enhancement of the horizontal and temporal resolution of the model domain; more accurate input sea level pressure and wind data; and improvements to the surge model itself (e.g., inclusion of sea ice). Overall, however, results indicate that recent operational implementation of the model should be of significant benefit to coastal forecasters.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Warren Blier, Department of Atmospheric Sciences, University of California, Los Angeles, 405 Hilgard Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1565.

Email: blier@atmos.ucla.edu

Abstract

Within the period of the historical record there have been several occurrences of extensive damage from storm-surge-related coastal flooding in the region of Nome, Alaska. The most recent of these events, although by no means the most destructive, occurred in association with the storm of 5–6 October 1992. Despite the small population of Nome (approximately 4000 people), total damage costs exceeded $6 million.

The research into the nature and causes of such flooding events has focused on this October 1992 case. The authors have, however, also examined a weaker, shorter-duration event that occurred on 20 August 1993 and, for contrast, a case in September 1993 where a sustained offshore wind transported water out of Norton Sound. Tide gauge data from Nome were used to quantitatively assess the associated changes in water level, and meteorological analyses were utilized to examine the associated synoptic-scale circulations and their evolution.

In addition, numerical modeling experiments were conducted using an extratropical storm surge model. (A version of this model is operational for the east coast of the United States.) Hindcasts of phase and amplitude for the October 1992 and September 1993 events agreed well with observations. Simulations of the shorter-duration August 1993 event were in poorer agreement with observations and indicate several possibilities for future improvement of the performance of the surge model: enhancement of the horizontal and temporal resolution of the model domain; more accurate input sea level pressure and wind data; and improvements to the surge model itself (e.g., inclusion of sea ice). Overall, however, results indicate that recent operational implementation of the model should be of significant benefit to coastal forecasters.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Warren Blier, Department of Atmospheric Sciences, University of California, Los Angeles, 405 Hilgard Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1565.

Email: blier@atmos.ucla.edu

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