The National Weather Service in Juneau has issued its second flood notice in a week for the Taiya River in Skagway. With more rain on the way, and already-saturated ground, the river is expected to peak at 18 feet. At that level, lower parts of the Chilkoot Trail will become submerged. Hikers and people recreating in the area are urged to use caution.
The flood watch has been issued from midday Wednesday through Thursday evening for Skagway. Wes Adkins is a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Juneau.
“This really impacts any kind of hiking on the Chilkoot Trail, so anyone planning a trip on the Chilkoot should be aware that this front is coming in, and that the trail will be submerged at several points,” says Adkins.
According to the weather service, one to two inches of rain, with more at higher elevations, is expected across Northern Southeast. Moderate flood stage on the Taiya is 17 feet. The weekend flooding reached 17.3 feet, according to Adkins.
“We’re expecting a crest of around 18 feet on Wednesday night, and that would put it higher than the last peak, and that was on Friday.”
With the expected flooding, sections of the Chilkoot could see knee-deep water associated with overflow in the surrounding watershed. Boating and other water-based activities on the Taiya are discouraged.
A flood watch means conditions are favorable for flooding, while a warning means flooding is imminent or already happening. As of Tuesday afternoon, a watch was in effect with a warning likely within 24 hours.
Adkins says flooding along the Taiya in late summer and early fall is not uncommon.
“It’s been a relatively flood-free pattern up until the last few days,” says Adkins. “So, the fact that it’s coming now is not a complete surprise, but it’s definitely a stark change from conditions in June.”
Mike Tranel is the superintendent for the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, which manages the U.S. side of the Chilkoot Trail. He says with recent improvements to the trail, it can withstand higher river levels and still remain passable. But they are still monitoring the rising waters and are prepared to close the route if need be.
“When the Taiya River is at flood stage, people are walking through waist-deep water on parts of the Chilkoot Trail,” Tranel says. “But it’s not fast-moving water, it’s standing water, so it’s more of an inconvenience than a hazard at that level.”
As of Tuesday afternoon, the water level was at 15.6 feet. Tranel says once it hits 17, they’ll start monitoring the trail closely.
“It’s lower sections before you climb out of the Taiya Valley and it’s more during the first several miles of the trail where (flooding) occurs. ”
Tranel says, historically, rain for a few days wouldn’t cause flooding like this, but the downpour follows many very warm days, which caused an increase in snow- and glacier-melt from mountains above.
“There was a higher starting point when the heavy rains came, so the river rose rapidly.”
KHNS will continue to air updates if conditions worsen.