Warm Winter Brings Open Water To Y-K Delta

Kuskokwim River at Bethel on January 25, 2014. Photo by Ben Matheson, KYUK - Bethel.
Kuskokwim River at Bethel on January 25, 2014. Photo by Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel.

Record warm temperatures have depleted Alaska’s snowpack and melted river ice. And residents of the YK Delta have noticed more open water in recent weeks. It’s not technically breakup, but in many places, it sure looks and feels like it.

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George Bright Senior is a VPSO in Goodnews Bay. He woke up Monday morning and saw open water.

“I mean it’s like springtime, said Bright. “Open water.”

He says Goodnews Bay and all three rivers that combine and empty into Goodnews Bay are open.

“The news has spread, so we might have some people going out seal hunting, going upriver and seining for trout, stuff like that,” said Bright.

James Charles lives in Tuntutuliak. He says there’s open water in front of Tuntutuliak slough from Helemik point on down to the mouth of the river.

“See it usually freezes by this time and has been frozen by December or January. But this time it’s open all the way,” said Charles.

He says people are not traveling by snowmachine on the river, but are going on a tundra trail instead. He says high tides are leading to extensive overflow in some low areas.

Scott Lindsey is a hydrologist for the Alaska Pacific River Forecast Center. He says the warm temperatures and rain are certainly unusual, but the Kuskokwim as a whole is not immediately at risk of breaking up.

“In order to really get breakup going, we’d have to have either a big rainfall even like we had several years ago, or temperatures where you had above freezing at higher elevations. There’s still lot of snow up in the mountains. In order to start breakup to really push down the river, you’d have to have a push of snowmelt coming from the mountains, and I don’t anticipate that’s going happen now,” said Lindsey.

Bethel can expect above normal temperatures through out the week, with highs above freezing through Friday.