Alaska still recovering from trio of hurricane-force storms

Alaskans are among the hardiest in the world when it comes to weathering storms -- the Last Frontier isn't exactly known for tropical sunshine and swimsuit weather.

But September has brought a hat trick of challenges from Mother Nature that probably has most Alaskans ready to wave the white flag.

Three storms brought intense winds to the greater Anchorage area -- many spots had well over hurricane force with one gust in the hills above the city registered at 131 mph! Then a surge of tropical moisture dumped several inches of rain and caused massing flooding in some spots. (I've created a photo gallery on the left that shows many of the maps the National Weather Service office pasted on their Facebook page)

What happened? Two things. First, the remnants of a series of tropical storms and typhoons that ravaged the Asian coast in September got caught in the jet stream and carried east across the Pacific. But second, a big ridge of high pressure sat parked along the Pacific Coast and kept rain from even thinking of approaching our coast for weeks on end.

Instead that ridge shoved the jet stream well to the north, painting an unrelenting bulls-eye on the Anchorage and southeast Alaska areas for all that tropical moisture to come ashore. Most of Seattle's all-time great flood and wind events have been due to the remnants of Asian storms that get carried across the Pacific -- it was just Alaska's turn this time. (Good thing for us. That ridge isn't there and we might have been talking about one of the wetter August/Septembers on record than the driest.)

You can see an animation of this storm track that was posted on the Facebook page of the National Weather Service Office in Anchorage on Sept. 17: (You might need to "like" the NWS Alaska Facebook page to see this.)

Here is a brief rundown of each storm with some help from the Associated Press:

Storm 1: Sept. 5-6

Some areas around Anchorage recorded hurricane-force winds, while winds in lower elevations were clocked in at 40 to 60 mph during the storm, which blew intensely. The storm closed schools and delayed production of the Anchorage Daily News, whose Wednesday edition was not delivered to subscribers. There were no immediate reports of injuries, but there were lots of homeowners across the city lamenting the loss of their trees.

Meteorologist Andy Dixon said the official highest recorded wind speed was 88 mph in Turnagain Arm south of Anchorage, but sensors in that area and other windier spots then quit working through much of the severe storm, so the winds are believed to be much stronger there than officially measured.

Trees were breaking and falling all over the city, landing on power lines, cars, yards and homes, Anchorage police and fire officials said. Some trees that fell on power lines sparked tree and transformer fires, according to fire department spokesman Al Tamagni. Altogether, fire department crews juggled 493 calls in the 12-hour period beginning Tuesday evening, he said.

Power outages affected thousands in Anchorage and other parts of south central Alaska. To avoid the high winds during the storm, seven passenger jets were diverted to Fairbanks from Anchorage. Fairbanks International Airport spokeswoman Angie Spear told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner that 740 unscheduled passengers were at the facility.

Storm 2: Sept. 16-17

A second storm blew in 10 days later and again, produced triple digits of wind speeds in the mountainous terrain above Anchorage. The NWS reported a gust of 120 mph in Bear Valley, and 112 mph in Glen Alps. However, this particular storm spared the more populated areas of Anchorage with gusts more in the 20-40 mph range.

The Anchorage Daily News reported that there were just scattered power outages through the day with some minor flooding.

Storm 3: Sept. 19

But just three days later, Anchorage was back again getting blasted by winds, as the hill sides and Turnagain Arm areaswere touching hurricane force.

The winds caused Anchorage flights to be diverted to Fairbanks for much of the day. Anchorage proper seemed to again dodge the severe winds but the outlying areas had issues, including gusts to 75 mph around Turnigan Arm.

But this storm brought something more than just wind -- relentless rains to the Prince William Sound area. Some spots on the western shores received nearly 7 inches of rain in 24 hours, swelling rivers as well.

Perhaps worst hit was the tourist town of Talkeetna, where residents were asked to evacuate Friday because the nearby river continues to rise after heavy rains.

"It's beginning to look like an island," resident Renamary Rauchenstein told The Associated Press by telephone Friday afternoon. "It's rising pretty fast." Flooding is causing problems over a wide swath of Alaska, from Talkeetna, near the base of Mount McKinley, to the port town of Seward, 175 miles to the south. Many roads were closed or washed out and landslides were reported from heavy rains during the week.

The Talkeetna River was 4 feet above flood level and within a foot of its record stage of 17.4 feet, Streubel said. City officials said a levy west of town was breached in two or three places.

The weather has since calmed a bit although two additional storms -- not as intense -- were expected Tuesday and Thursday before more of an extended respite. But until the dominant ridge on the West Coast eases, Alaska will remain a bit soggy.