Kuskokwim River Watch to start next week

by Mark Arehart on May 10, 2013

With the ice on the Kuskokwim River lingering a bit longer than usual, the River Watch team has delayed its monitoring efforts by about a week or so.

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State Emergency Management Specialist Karl Edwards said the ice is thawing more slowly than expected.

“We’re a bit delayed. We have plans on coming out hopefully Tuesday and starting out of Aniak to watch the upper Kuskokwim,” Edwards said.

“We just had a report this morning that the ice has broken in Nicholai. But we’re still seeing reports of very thick ice in Sleetmute, Red Devil and other areas. So with the weather reports going in the cooler areas, it looks like it’s going to be a slow breakup.”

Nicholai is about 50 or 60 river miles up from McGrath on the upper Kuskokwim.

The City of McGrath said ice is still present, but is beginning to rot.

Historically breakup happens in Bethel about two weeks or so after McGrath, but predicting breakup isn’t easy.

“The process is starting and, weather depending, we’ll see how it progresses,” Edwards said.

As the weather is now, the signs point to a more subdued, thermal breakup. But, all it takes to shift into a more violent, dynamic breakup is a streak of warmer temperatures.

“There’s a lot of thick ice on the river, there’s a lot of snow in the hills. It’s been a really cool spring. So we haven’t had the normal melt off, evaporation, runoff that we normally get before hand. As long as the weather stays cool, we have a chance of a quiet thermal breakup,” Edwards said.

If breakup does turn more dynamic, officials at Bethel Search and Rescue said they have been preparing their equipment to assist local agencies and the Alaska State Troopers.

Mike Riley with BSAR said the villages of Kwethluk and Akiachak have reported solid ice conditions with no open leads. “I would say that it’s still safe on the river, but you have to be very careful along what you’re doing.”

Riley said tundra and shortcut trails could prove dangerous for fourwheeler traffic and the trail across Hangar Lake outside of Bethel is unsafe.

Stay tuned to KYUK for riverwatch updates beginning next week, as well as updates on river safety.

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