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Powerful storm moving toward coastal Alaska

Posted: November 8, 2011 - 12:21pm

ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- An unusual Bering Sea storm packing hurricane-force winds and 35-foot waves -- a type of storm not seen for decades in Alaska -- moved rapidly Tuesday toward the western Alaska coastline.

The storm was traveling at 60 mph and had reached the western Aleutian Islands, said Andy Brown, lead forecaster for the National Weather Service in Anchorage.

The storm could reach the beachfront city of Nome by late Tuesday, with winds hitting 85 mph.

"Get ready and prepare for a really nasty storm," Brown advised Bering Sea mariners and people living in coastal communities from Wales to Unalakleet.

The storm was expected to produce a 10-foot surge, forcing dozens of coastal communities to make emergency preparations.

"It is very dangerous," Brown said. "Everybody is spreading the word to let them know this is a major storm."

The storm, described by Brown as "big, deep, low," was taking an unusual path through the northern and eastern Bering Sea.

The last time forecasters saw something similar was in November 1974, when Nome also took the brunt of the storm. That storm surge measured more than 13 feet, pushing beach driftwood above the level of the previous storm of its type in 1913.

Winds from the current storm were expected to push large amounts of water into Norton Sound, raising sea levels 10 feet above normal through Wednesday.

That will cause beach erosion and flooding and may push Norton Bay ice on shore, forecasters said.

Seas were expected to begin rising along the coastline Tuesday afternoon and gain height rapidly at night before cresting in Nome on Wednesday.

"It will wash pretty far up the beach," said Ted Fathauer, lead forecaster for the National Weather Service in Fairbanks.

Some low-lying areas and a road that runs along the Nome beachfront could experience flooding, he said.

Smaller communities that are vulnerable to storm erosion were of particular concern, especially the village of Kivalina, already one of the state's most threatened communities because of erosion.

Brown said the state emergency coordination center and the National Weather Service were in contact with emergency personnel in numerous communities. Another conference call was planned for Tuesday afternoon.

"Everybody is aware that the storm is coming," he said.

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