Though it’s November, temperatures are above freezing, and the Kuskokwim is running ice-free. After a warm front swept through the region last week, rising temperatures and rain melted the little ice that had formed.
Mark Leary has been measuring the Kuskokwim’s ice thickness for the National Weather Service for 20 years. Standing on the bank of the river in front of Bethel on Thursday, he told KYUK that this open water is unusual, but that we have been here before.
It used to be few and far between, but it seems like it’s becoming more and more common to be able to boat in early November. Last year I did, and the year before I did.
It’s affecting the normal activities that people do this time of year, like black fish hunting and lush fishing, but they’re still able to. You see people fishing off the seawall and still going out on the tundra and putting the taluyaqs, just not as easy as when it’s frozen, I guess.
People are still able to go out and boat and manaq, but not nearly as many as there were before the first ice came. A lot of people put their boats away, including me.
On October 22, when that first run of ice came, I ran my boat to Napaimute, pulled it out for the winter and flew down, and now I’m stuck in Bethel with no boat.
It’s a nuisance, because you take all your stuff out of it and drain the lower unit and take your battery, but if this is going to go on for a while, I might just go get it.
I really do hope that the water gets a chance to drop a lot more before the ice comes. We’ve been having these low water break ups and high water freeze ups. The world is getting backwards.
It makes it more dangerous if it freezes high, then all winter long the water is dropping. And that leaves shell ice, ice with nothing holding it up underneath. And it’s easy to fall through, cause problems, get you stuck, get your equipment broken up, stuff like that.
The thing about this time of year, even through it’s ice free, it can change really fast again. People who are boating have to be ready to run home again if the ice comes back. It won’t take much, especially if it snows. If it snows, heavy snow, it makes ice very fast.
The uncertainty. We don’t know anymore what kind of freeze up we’re going to have. We used to be able to pretty much count on it. My memories as a kid is that certainly by Halloween the river was froze up tight. We just don’t know what to expect anymore.
The National Weather Service predicts that temperatures will drop below freezing this weekend and then rise again early next week. The Kuskokwim ice in front of Bethel has frozen by October 16 on average, according to National Weather Service data stretching back to 1960.