‘We dodged a bullet’: Kuskokwim River ice jams soften as flood risk decreases

Kuskokwim River breakup in front of Bethel, on the evening of May 3. (Photo by Katie Basile/KYUK)

The Kuskokwim River has largely cleared itself of in-place ice, greatly reducing the chances of flooding along the river, according to the National Weather Service.

“We dodged a bullet,” said Celine van Breukelen, a hydrologist with the weather service, after surveying the river on May 4. The ice jam below Napaimute released just before midnight on May 3. By then, the ice downstream had been able to soften and begin moving.

The news comes after days of communities being under a flood watch, and after weeks of preparing flood evacuation plans.

As of Monday, van Breukelen said that only one small ice jam remained on the lower river just upstream of Tuluksak near Bogus Creek. Ice also remains between McGrath and Stony River. Van Breukelen said that this ice is a boating hazard and not a flood threat.

Van Breukelen also reported seeing a loose barge floating down the Kuskokwim. On Monday afternoon, she spotted it downstream of Kalskag, near Coffee’s Bend.

Alaska Logistics owns the barge. It’s loaded with riprap, or basketball-sized rocks, and was bound for Red Devil when it became frozen into the river near Aniak last fall. It’s been making its way downriver since the ice broke. River residents hope that the barge doesn’t capsize, dump its load and block the river channel.

More Kuskokwim flood coverage from KYUK

Alaska Logistics plans to retrieve unattended barge floating down Kuskokwim River
On Tuesday, Bethel residents caught the peculiar sight of an unattended barge floating down the Kuskokwim River. The barge, filled with gravel and owned by Alaska Logistics, froze in the river near Aniak last October. With the river’s breakup freeing the vessel, it has drifted over 100 miles and looks to be heading out to sea. (Read more)

‘Napaimute wave’ of high water heading down Kuskokwim River
Kuskokwim River observer Earl Samuelson says more high water is heading downstream. Samuelson says behind the ice that broke free of Napaimute earlier this week is a wave of high water following it. (Read more)

Kuskokwim Ice Classic tripod falls, but pandemic slows winner announcement
The Kuskokwim Ice Classic tripod fell on Sunday, May 3, at 9:58 p.m. The event marked the official time of breakup in front of Bethel. In the hours before the clock stopped, a sequence of events kept the contest organizers on edge. (Read more)