‘Historically powerful’ storm to hit Alaska this weekend with seas up to 54 feet high

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An intense and extremely powerful storm is heading for the coast of Alaska, with forecasts of coastal flooding and massive sea swells as it moves in.

The storm is made up of remnants from Typhoon Merbok, which formed in the northern Pacific Ocean last weekend.

“Some locations may experience their worst coastal flooding in nearly 50 years,” the National Weather Service (NWS) warns.

A “hurricane force wind warning” has been issued for the Bering Sea, which sits between Alaska and Russia, and where the storm is currently located. Flood warnings have been issued for much of the state’s western coastline too, as storm surges could push the seas between three and 18 feet (one to five metres) above the high tide line.

Over the ocean, seas could reach up to 54 feet high, according to NWS.

“Winds gusting as high as 90 mph will create significant wave action on top of the surge pushing water well inland in some areas,” the agency warned.

“Residents should take immediate action to protect themselves and property as this dangerous storm moves into the area.”

The storm is expected to hit the state Friday night and Saturday, with flood danger persisting through Sunday.

Rick Thoman, a climate scientist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, tweeted that “there hasn’t been a September storm this strong in the northern Bering Sea region in the past 70 years.”

The city of Nome, which sits along the western coast, is preparing for the storm’s impact by urging people to secure boats and debris around their homes. Floodwaters could push well into the city.

Other communities along the state’s western coast are smaller and more remote.

The community of Kivalina, in particular, has made headlines in recent years for dealing with the threat of sea level rise and flooding that may force them to relocate the entire town if the coastal island it’s situated on erodes away.

The town of fewer than 400 people, most of whom are Alaska Native, even sued a collection of fossil fuel companies in federal court for damages they claimed were associated with the climate crisis. The case was later dismissed.

NWS warns that buildings in the town are in danger of flooding in this weekend’s storm.

Climate scientists have warned that as the planet heats up, tropical storm systems like the one that initially formed Typhoon Merbok could get stronger on average.

In addition, rising sea levels – fed in large part by melting ice in the Arctic and Antarctic – can push human infrastructure even closer to the ocean, making storm surges even more damaging.