SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


The Great Flood of 2011!!!!!!


August 24, 2011

(SitNews) Ketchikan, Alaska -
“Global warming” or “Climate change” or whatever you want to call it is having a significant effect on Our Fair Salmon City!
jpg Dave Kiffer

No, the temps are certainly not warmer and the water levels are not rising very much.

Actually, the sad thing about all the global warming predictions is that we are in the middle of the one part of the world where all the climate change models show that things will get colder and wetter. You knew that was coming.

But as usual, I digress.

No, there has been a rapid increase in one thing.

Dire weather predictions!

In the past, the National Weather service has been pretty low key about predicting local weather. Occasionally, there would be a storm warning or two. Sometimes, they would caution us to be wary of high winds in “exposed areas” (as if any long-time resident would be caught dead “exposing” their areas in this climate).

But other than suggesting we check on our boats to make sure they don’t sink at the dock, there was little differentiation between a storm bringing two inches or eight inches of rain. Little concern unless sustained winds of 70 plus are expected. Then they warned people to secure their backyard trampolines.

Occasionally, there was a winter storm warning where they talked about a bit of snow and whiteout, but – don’t be alarmed – it’s not like we live in Shaktoolik or some such place. All snow washes away here, more sooner than later.

Now, already this year, we have had two “dire” storm warnings.

Let’s roll tape and see how they turned out!

First, it was the “Three Day Snow Storm of January 2011.”

You remember it.

The National Weather Service was predicting anywhere 6-12-18-36 inches of snow over a weekend in January. They weren’t sure because there was a chance the “slow moving” storm would just camp out over top of Ketchikan and let loose an aerial avalanche.

Six inches isn’t much to write home about, but three feet would be pretty awesome for Ketchikan. We had a three foot storm a couple of years ago in Ketchikan and it pretty much shut down the whole town for a couple of days. They even, very, very briefly, considered closing school!

For more than a week, there was a steady drumbeat of increasingly bad forecasts. Enough so, that even long-timers took note and brought more rock salt and got extra groceries just in case we were “snowed” in.  Some people even bought snow sleds!

Shouldn’t have bothered. The skies threatened to dump on us, but after three days, the total accumulation was less than five inches in most places.

(For more on that “deluge” please see “The Three Day Snow!!!!” SITNEWS, Jan. 7, 2011)

Anyway, about a week ago, the weather service picked up the drumbeat again. This time a flood of Biblical proportions was about to engulf us. For several days running, there were daily flood warnings, indicating that several inches of rain were expected to fall in a short period of time and that creeks and other waterways could, nay would, flood. They would leap over their banks, uncontrollable like children swarming out the school doors on the last day of school.

To be sure, Weather Service never used the terms “flash flood” or “arroyo” but it sounded for all the world like one of those warnings in you hear in the Southwest .  Something a little more than a “cloudburst” and a little less than a “monsoon.”

And it came with all the same admonitions.

Do not camp next to a creek!!!

Be aware of the potential for mud slides!!!

Do not drive into standing water!!!

It’s deeper than it looks!!!

Your car could stall in less than a foot of water!!!

And you will swept away into the flooded arroyo-err-flooded creek!!!!

Normally, I would just shake my head at those sort of warnings because………. Well, just because.

But I have to remind myself that the US Army Corps of Engineers says that all of Ketchikan is “wetlands” and my own house – at an elevation of more than 150 above sea level – remains in the Ketchikan Creek “floodplain.”

A few years back, we were watching some video of the flooding in North Dakota (like it should even be news, doesn’t the Red River flood disastrously every year?) and my son worried aloud about “flooding” at “our house.” I tried to explain that it was a pretty remote event, but the National Weather Service wants us to be wary just in case.

No, we did not start filling sandbags when the forecast turned dire last week.

It’s not like there’s much stray sand around.

We do have a lot of kitty litter in our house, but I’m sure the EPA would fine us prodigiously if we allowed “used” kitty litter to leave our property and go through the storm drains into the pristine waters of Tongass Narrows.

I did think about getting extra batteries for when the power went out, because you can pretty much guarantee when there is a hint of “inclemency” in our weather, someone at KPU will slip on a puddle and hit the wrong switch or a suicidal eagle will lose control in mid gust and arc a couple of wires.

But, no I didn’t lay in extra supplies or prepare to evacuate my house in rising waters (like I could decide which of my “treasures” beyond my wife and son were worth cramming into my car as I hurriedly attempted to drive to higher ground – Summit Ridge Terrace, perhaps?).

Fortunately, I didn’t need to.

Now, I’m sure there was some flooding somewhere. And a few trees probably tipped over and there was a brief power outage (about 10 minutes) at my house.

And we did have just under 5 inches of rain, making it the wettest Aug 21st  ever in Ketchikan.  And the 12th wettest August day ever in the First City.

But that doesn’t even break the top 100 in all-time wettest Ketchikan days in history and for comparison’s sake on Oct 8, 1977 we got 8.77 inches! (I was in California at that point, it was not my fault).

Of course, you are saying – well that’s in October, the weather is supposed to be sucky them. After all, we call it “Arrggghtober” for a reason.

But in 1920, it must have been a really crappy August indeed.

The weather service says more than 33 inches of rain fell that month. (for comparison we’ve had about 10 inches per month in July and August so far and my, my aren’t we all whining about it).

On  August 4th, 1920 there was 7.10 inches of rain.

Followed by Aug. 5th at – drum roll please – 8.07 inches.

Stunning.  Absolutely stunning, that people continued to live here after that!

Then again, they were probably more surprised than anything when it started raining and didn’t stop until the boardwalk streets floated into Tongass Narrows and the pinks began to spawn on upper Main Street.

After all, Ketchikanders in those days didn’t have the pleasure of a week’s worth of dire weather warnings to get them all Gore-texed up with nowhere to go..

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Historical Feature Stories by Dave Kiffer


Dave Kiffer is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.
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