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Break-Up Forecast Roundtable Discussion Hosted by Senator Lisa Murkowski


Breakup Briefing April 2012

Alaska Pacific River Forecast Center Scott Lindsey, Service Coordination Hydrologist April 5, 2012

What does our office do?

Our mission is to provide weather, water, and climate data, forecasts and warnings for the protection of life and property and enhancement of the national economy We provide Alaskan residents and visitors the information that they need to plan and prepare for potentially hazardous environmental conditions The Alaska Pacific River Forecast Center works with NWS Forecast Offices in Alaska and Hawaii to provide hydrologic guidance to our customers and users. Of primary importance are monitoring and prediction of flooding and flash flooding, but current and future river information is also vital for recreational activities, transportation and various other uses of our states waterways.

Some past events!

14 of the 22 Federal disaster declarations in Alaska since 1990 (an average of one per year) included flooding as a cause. Notable events in the last 6 years:
Extreme rainfall floods affecting the Matanuska Borough and the Copper River basin in August and October of 2006 Record flooding in May 2009 due to breakup ice jams, a large number of communities were affected; Eagle, Stevens Village and Tanana on the Yukon River received the worst impacts Community of Crooked Creek on the Kuskokwim River devastated by ice jam flooding May 2011

What is our current situation?

Snowpack on March 1, 2012 was much higher than normal (130 180%) for Southcentral Alaska. Interior snowpack varied from 100 to 130% above normal. Ice thickness at the beginning of March 2012 varied from slightly below normal to slightly above normal. March was generally colder than normal and the long-term climate outlooks call for continued cooler than normal temperatures. This increases the likelihood that a sudden rise in temperatures to well above normal could trigger a dynamic breakup similar to that which occurred in 2009.

Current Situation

Current Situation

Current Situation

Snow information Courtesy of the Natural Resource Conservation Service, their cooperators In the snow survey program and the Yukon Territory Water Resources Branch

Current Situation

What do we expect this year?

The potential for severe flooding exists and increases if we continue to have cool temperatures through April. Currently we have rated our flood potential at one level above normal. That means if a community normally receives minor flooding, the potential for moderate flooding is increased. If a village normally doesnt flood at all (or only floods in extreme flood years), the potential for minor flooding in that village is increased this year.

Initial Flood Potential Map

How do we monitor breakup?

Long standing collaboration (over 30 years) with the State of Alaska Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management (DHS&EM) Hydrologists from the River Forecast Center team with an emergency management specialist from DHS&EM and they follow the breakup front on the Yukon and Kuskokwim Rivers and reach out to the communities The Hydrologist determines the potential for flooding, including the likely severity, and the team talks to community leaders to advise them of the threat and ensure that they are properly prepared NWS Forecast offices disseminate watches and warnings for the protection of life and property When severe flooding occurs, the State and FEMA coordinate the management of various State, Federal and Tribal efforts to bring relief to the community

Eagle, Stevens Village, Tanana in 2009 Crooked Creek in 2011 It pays to be prepared!!!

For more information go to To report breakup information see our Facebook page

7 day Forecast Temperatures


Mike OHare Deputy Director State of Alaska DHS&EM April 5, 2012

What is River Watch?

Each year, the State of Alaska DHS&EM and the National Weather Service (NWS) separately fund a joint program to provide advance and emergency notification of imminent snowmelt and ice jam flooding to 75 Alaska villages, boroughs, and tribal councils. This program is known as River Watch.

Who are the Major Participants in River Watch?

The Division of Homeland Security & Emergency Management (DHS&EM) the primary agency for emergency management in the state. Alaska-Pacific River Forecast Center (APRFC) of the National Weather Service responsible for scientific study and information sharing. River Neighbors are riverine communities that collect data before, during, and after flooding occurs.


DHS&EM and APRFC Goals

Monitor rivers and obtain current information on the status of the breakup. Prepare communities in advance of flooding. Warn communities of the likelihood of approaching high water, significant ice, and imminent flooding. Advise community leaders on basic emergency management immediately following significant flooding or other emergencies.

Russian Mission


Ice Jam Flooding in Alaska

Significant flooding on major river systems in Alaska is not uncommon. Since 1978:
Flooding caused by ice jams has garnered state- or federaldeclarations over 50 times.

Several state and/or federal declarations have included more than one locally-declared community:
o Ten or more communities were grouped together into federal declarations in 1989, 1991, 2002, and 2009. o Five or more local declarations were included in state and/or federal declarations in 1992, 1994, and 2006.

The State of Alaska has provided substantial public and individual assistance funds to communities impacted by ice jam flooding; an estimated 100 million dollars since 1978!

Declared Alaskan Disasters

Disaster Breakdown (~240 declared events since 1978) in order of occurrence.
1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10.
Ice Jam flooding and Fall Sea Ice jam floods storms account for a third of all Fall sea storms and flooding declarations since 1978! Building fires Winter storms and flooding Summer storms and flooding Extreme cold/community utility freeze-ups Wildfires Generator/community power problems Facility damage All other, e.g., erosion, economic, Haz Mat, Windstorms, landslide/avalanches, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, communication problems, etc.


How Often Does Significant Ice Jam Flooding Occur?

Year 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 Significance of Flooding 2001 Middle Yukon Flood State disaster. 2002 Interior Floods State and Federal disaster. 2003 Salcha Flood State disaster. Low statewide flooding threat. No significant flooding occurred. 2005 Spring Floods State disaster. 2006 Spring Floods State and Federal disaster. No significant flooding due to a low statewide threat. No disaster declared; however, minor to moderate flooding occurred in Salcha, Gakona, Old Minto, Tolovano, Quinhagak, Buckland, Kobuk, Alakanuk, and Emmonak. 2009 Spring Floods State and Federal disaster. 2010 Buckland Flood three days of flooding, but no disaster declared because funds were provided by another agency.

2009 2010


2011 Spring Floods State and Federal disaster.

2001 Middle Yukon Flood

Koyukuk May 2001

Nulato Alakanuk May 2001 May 2005

State Disaster AK 01-196, declared May 31, 2001. Total cost for this disaster: $510,554.

Flooding at Nulato and Koyukuk along the Yukon River.

35 Nulato residents evacuated by helicopter to Galena.

2002 Interior Flood

Ice jam on Upper Yukon May 2002

Aniak May 2002

State Disaster AK 02-200, declared may 29, 2002. FEMA Disaster DR-1423-AK, declared June 26, 2002.

Flooding at 11 communities along the Tanana, Kuskokwim, Nushagak, Susitna, and Yukon Rivers.
Total costs for this disaster: $5,099,254. Total State costs were $1,298,936

2003 Salcha Flood

Salcha April 2003 Salcha April 2003

Emmonak May 2005

Alakanuk May 2005

State Disaster AK 03-205, declared May 21, 2003. Total cost for this disaster: $426,048.

Flooding at Salcha on the Tanana River the third flooding episode in two years.
40 residents evacuated and sheltered by the Fairbanks North Star Borough.

2005 Spring Floods

Emmonak May 2005

Kwethluk May 2005

State Disaster AK 05-213, declared July 20, 2005. Total cost for this disaster: $1.293 million.

Alakanuk, Emmonak, and McGrath were the hardest hit communities. Flooding also reported at Kwethluk and Tuluksak.

2006 Spring Floods

Emmonak May 2006

Kwethluk May 2006

State Disaster AK 06-218, declared June 27, 2006. FEMA Disaster DR-1657-AK, declared August 4, 2006

Hughes, Koyukuk, Kwethluk, Alakanuk, and Emmonak were the hardest hit communities. Flooding also reported at Bethel, Nulato, Tetlin, and Kongiganak. Total costs for this disaster: $2,916 million. Total State costs were $1.869 million.

2009 Spring Floods

Eagle Village May 2009

Eagle May 2009

State Disaster AK 09-227, declared May 6, 2009. FEMA Disaster DR-1843-AK, declared June 11, 2009.

Eagle and Eagle Village were only two of 40 communities flooded in May 2009! Total estimated costs for this disaster: $13 million. Total State costs were $3.25 million.

2010 Buckland Flood

Buckland May 2010

Emmonak May 2005

Buckland May 2010

A local disaster declaration was sent to the NW Arctic Borough, but it was generally rescinded. Alternative funding via DEC was sought by the community.

Buckland experienced about three days of high water and moderate flooding.

2011 Spring Floods

Crooked Creek May 2011 Kwethluk May 2006 Red Devil May 2011

State Disaster AK 09 232, declared May 17, 2011. FEMA Disaster DR-1992-AK, declared June 10, 2011.

Crooked Creek and Red Devil were the hardest hit communities. Several residents self-evacuated to Donlin Creek Mine.
Total costs for this disaster: $3.69 million. Total State costs were $922,621.

River Watch Timeframe

March Preparation and coordination begins between DHS&EM and NWS. The NWS prepares initial breakup outlooks. Early mid April The DHS&EM video Flood Watch: A Time to Prepare is typically aired on television or mailed to communities. DHS&EM mails break up guidance to at-risk riverine communities. Active monitoring begins in midApril. The NWS and NRCS prepare a joint Spring Flood Outlook. Late April/May SEOC activates to support the field mission. Fieldwork begins once ice deterioration begins - usually the last week in April through mid May.


Spring Flood Breakup Guide

Each year until 2010, DHS&EM mailed an updated Spring Flood Break up Guide to 76 at-risk riverine communities, boroughs, and tribal organizations, plus a few state agencies.

This guide basically:

outlined general procedures to prepare for seasonal flooding contained helpful checklists included contact numbers for State, local, and village officials.

Alaska Emergency Response Guide for Small Communities

DHS&EM now distributes a new response guide intended for small communities. The purpose of this guide is to meet four goals:
Assist local officials in preparing for, responding to, and recovering from disasters and emergencies. Help local officials begin development of their local emergency operations plan. Replace existing DHS&EM preparedness guides for seasonal events (e.g., Spring Breakup Guide). Educate local leaders on how the State assists with local disasters.

Information Sources
There are two general types of information: field and remote
Field information from State Trooper, private and commercial pilot reports, and community observations. Remote involves weather products and projections, models, webcams, and satellite imagery compiled in Anchorage.


Field Observations
The primary source of river stage and ice jam conditions is provided by village observers and local pilots. NWS contacts observers in several river villages for daily reports. Pilots send in regular pilot reports (PIREPS) that help NWS determine:
quality of ice ice movement ice jam and flooding potential

Flights have limited spatial coverage and can be unavailable in poor weather.

NWS Flood Forecast Tools Used For Flooding Potential Due to Ice Blockage
NWS reviews data from these sources in preparing their breakup forecast:
Freezing degree day relationships Ice thickness data and modeling Snow water equivalent data and modeling Stream flow data and modeling Aerial reconnaissance monitoring Synthetic aperture radar images Visual satellite images Web page information dissemination

Seasonal Climate Outlook

The NWS prepares seasonal temperature and precipitation outlook maps. The maps for April 2012 are shown at left.

Satellite and Radar Imagery

NWS monitors vast stretches of Alaska daily via satellite and radar imagery. Selected satellite flight paths can be viewed individually to display timely river ice information. Available on the web at: Synthetic aperature radar (SAR) can identify ice cover, ice runs, and open water after dark and through cloud cover.

MODIS satellite view of Middle Yukon River area 11 May 2010


MODIS satellite view of Middle Kuskokwim River, 11 May 2010

NWS Weather Projections

DHS&EM monitors many statewide weather, satellite and flood information sites. NWS issues regular projections based on village reports, river stage gauge data and climate modeling. NWS reports and predictions can be found at: The progress of breakup is displayed on the web graphically along with text reports from the River Watch team, updated projections, pilot observations, and selected recent photographs.

Webcam view of McGrath From Airport Runway May 1, 2009

What Happens During the Field Program

Teams conduct daily flights of the river stretches most at risk of ice jam flooding. Photographs are taken to document the water levels and ice conditions. Based on this data, estimates of the flood potential and threat are made to at-risk communities downriver.


Which Rivers are Flown?

ALWAYS - Yukon and Kuskokwim Rivers
Portions of these rivers are flown every year. Together they have the highest percentage and greatest likelihood for ice jam flooding. Potentially dangerous conditions to develop and go unnoticed due to the vast uninhabited areas which separate the river communities.

USUALLY Koyukuk River

Especially the confluence with the Yukon River. The evacuation of Hughes and Allakaket in 1994 was the costly disaster since the 1964 earthquake.

IF NECESSARY - Tanana, Chena, Kobuk, Buckland, and their tributaries

Normally monitored from Anchorage and/or Fairbanks unless local observations or NWS projections identify a flood threat.

Normal Breakup Sequence

Yukon River
Break-up begins in Dawson, Canada followed a week later in Eagle, and a week and a half later in Circle. Historically, breakup in Eagle happens the first week of May and continues for approximately 2 weeks. The lower portions of the river will begin to move within ten days of the start of break up on the Kuskokwim River.

Kuskokwim River
Break-up usually begins at Nikolai within a week to ten days after break-up of the Yukon River at Circle. The rest of the river breaks up about a week later.


River Watch Field Team

River Watch Teams Deploy based on:
National Weather Services reports and forecasts. Historical data.

The Team is normally comprised of:

DHS&EM emergency management specialist. NWS/APRFC hydrologist. Local pilot.

Deployed teams are supported by an activated State Emergency Operations Center.


Primary Areas of Operation

The Yukon River is 1,980 miles long (1,700 miles long in Alaska); therefore, the river is divided into three segments that are flown as the river breaks up;
Upper Yukon/Tanana - based out of Fairbanks, Eagle, or Circle Hot Springs Middle Yukon/Koyukuk based out of Galena Lower Yukon based out St. Marys

The Kuskokwim River is 702 miles long and the longest free-flowing river in the United States; therefore, the river is divided into two segments:
Upper Kusko based out of McGrath or Aniak Lower Kusko based out of Bethel.

River Watch Staging Locations

Primary Staging Secondary Staging

USGS Topographic Maps

As the River Watch teams fly the rivers, they annotate USGS maps showing river miles with the following:
Location of ice jams High water spots Movement of water through side channels Ice condition (e.g., intact, deteriorated, rotten, etc)

The teams uses these maps to discuss preparedness measures with local officials.

Contact with the Local Community

When not in the air teams:
Visit communities providing faceto-face contact
Compare current river ice information with historical accounts Advise local officials on ways to lessen future damages should flooding continue

When risk arises, provide warnings and information to the community via local marine-band radio or through public radio interviews.

If Significant Flooding Occurs.

The River Watch team will remain in place to assist local leaders address life safety and other immediate concerns. The team will stay throughout the response and initial damage assessment phases of the emergency to provide coordination with the SEOC. The SEOC may deploy an incident management team (IMT) to assume liaison and incident management. Upon transfer of the incident to the IMT, the River Watch team resumes its original mission.



Galena May 2008

Bethel May 2008


Emmonak May 2006


Koyuk 2008


Tuluksak May 2005

Tanana River overflowing banks At Salcha, May 2011

Ice flows near 59 Circle, 2008

Evacuations and Evacuation Planning

Evacuation planning is an integral part of River Watch and Fire Season Monitoring programs Two thirds of Alaskan communities are in unorganized areas and may need evacuation planning that involves assessing the threat, the area involved, and setting a workable timeframe Relatively recent evacuation efforts:
DHS&EM coordinated the 2006 spring flood evacuations of Koyukuk, Hughes, Emmonak, and Alakanuk DHS&EM assisted the Dept of Forestry during the 2004 2006 Fire Season in evacuation planning for Ft Yukon, Fairbanks, Delta Junction, and Nenana
Donnelly Flats Fire Near Ft. Greeley, AK Summer 1999

Old Minto Recovery Camp, 2008


Any Questions about River Watch?


Federal Emergency Management Agency Region 10

Robert Forgit Alaska Area Office Manager

FEMA Mission
FEMAs mission is to support our citizens and first
responders to ensure that as a nation we work together to build, sustain, and improve our capability to prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate all hazards.



Basic Emergency Management Process

Emergency Management is a bottom up process, with action taken at lowest level possible first. Locals respond first with subsequent State and Federals support provided only upon request to supplement lower level efforts.

Local Government

State Government

Federal Government

Disaster Declaration Process

Stafford Act (1974)
Local Government Responds State Government Responds Governor Requests Joint Preliminary Damage Assessment (PDA) And Federal Declaration Region Administrator Analysis & Recommendation

Disaster threatens or occurs

Federal resources may deploy in advance of immediate danger


Advance teams (IMAT) or other elements deploy as directed Emergency Support Functions (ESF) activated as required
Federal Coordinating Officer (FCO) Appointed

FEMA responds with Teams, Supplies, Facilities, Advice, and $$$$$

FEMA Director Recommendation to President

Deploy Assets & Set up Joint Field Office (JFO)

President Issues Federal Declaration

3 Types of Federal Disaster Assistance possible under a Major Disaster Declaration

Public Assistance:
Publicly-owned facilities and infrastructure Certain non-profit entities *75/25 federal/non-federal cost share Individual Assistance (IA): SBA Loan Program for individuals in disasters Individuals & Households Program (IHP) Other Needs Assistance (ONA) *IA assistance is limited: Adjusted FY2012 maximum award is $31,400 Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) grants to states and local governments to implement long-term hazard mitigation measures. State is grantee for HMGP, solicits and prioritizes projects for funding.

Severe Winter Storms and Flooding Incident Period 8-13 Nov 2011

Presidential Declaration on 22 Dec 2011

Public Assistance (PA) Only PA Categories A-G are eligible Impacted Areas North Slope Borough Bering Straits REAA Lower Yukon REAA

Lower Kuskokwim REAA

Southwest Region REAA

Damage Estimate $2.04M Federal Share $1.53M (75%)

State Share $.51M (25%)

Complete Joint Field Office (JFO) Operations on 13 April 2012 Some sites are currently inaccessible and/or damage cannot be assessed due to snow and freezing conditions AK DHS&EM and FEMA Region X will revisit these sites in Spring/Summer 2012

Severe Storm Incident Period 15-17 Nov 2011

Presidential Declaration on 2 Feb 2012

Public Assistance (PA) Only PA Categories A-G are eligible Impacted Area Kenai Peninsula Borough Damage Estimate $1.83M Federal Share $1.37M (75%)

State Share $.46M (25%)

Complete site visits and JFO Operations on 13 April 2012

Break-Up Forecast Roundtable Discussion Hosted by Senator Lisa Murkowski