If a weather disaster happens in Skagway, residents can rest assured their community is prepared. A weather-warning expert from the National Weather Service was in Skagway this week (last week on Monday) to speak with locals about what the municipality’s new Tsunami/Storm Ready Designation means.
It’s not just Skagway that is at risk for extraordinary weather events, the entire state is in jeopardy when it comes to extreme storms, wildfires, mudslides and more. But for Skagway and Haines, that risk includes tsunamis.
Skagway is ready, though, for whatever Mother Nature can throw its way. So says the National Weather Service, which recently signed off on the official Tsunami/Storm Ready Designation.
Joel Curtis is the warning coordinator meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Juneau. He was in Skagway on Wednesday to sign the designation and talk with residents about the accomplishment.
“This is a designation for communities that have demonstrated a certain degree of preparedness for particular natural hazards,” Curtis said. “In particular, with the National Weather Service, we think about the weather and tsunamis. Skagway has gone all the way through this process and has become certified”
That certification process has involved many facets including community outreach, evacuation plans and training for locals. But it’s a warning system that is perhaps most important.
“First and foremost, is make sure that your warning communication are really good, really tight, really robust. Skagway has received NOAA weather radio, as does Haines,” he said. “They have a way of monitoring the Emergency Alert System, which comes over radio and TV, as does Haines. They have a center that is staffed 24-hours so there’s a person that can answer there and that person is also connected to a warning siren, which is located in the center of town there.”
After Curtis inked the official proclamation, he talked to the 30 residents in attendance about weather threats including tsunamis.
He offered a history of tsunamis in the area, how the powerful water walls have affected Skagway, and the mechanics on the amount of force in a tsunami.
“The granddaddy of them all, the ’64 quake, there was a recorded 17-foot tsunami in Skagway,” Curtis said. “Now that is a very powerful, very large tsunami and it definitely affected things all along the waterfront there and it also severed the, at the time, the undersea cable that was going along Lynn Canal there.”
The 1994 tsunami in Skagway also came up. That massive, 20-foot tidal wave occurred when a large rock pile assembled during the construction of a cruise-ship dock toppled into deep water causing the disaster that left one person dead.
Curtis also presented information on mudslides, high winds, flooding and heavy snow, all of which are a threat in Southeast.
“We live in extreme weather up here, there’s no doubt about it, so everything we can do to be in a good state of preparedness is just exactly what we want to do.”
Haines does not have a disaster-ready designation through the National Weather Service, though the borough is planning a training exercise with the U.S. Coast Guard in the spring. The event would simulate a cruise-ship disaster with the goal to help Haines responders and residents be prepared should an incident of that nature occur. The exercise is slated for April, just before the summer cruise-ship season starts.
Borough manager Dave Sosa added that a multi-hazard mitigation plan was recently approved by the borough assembly and is awaiting approval from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The 90-page plan identifies flood/erosion, earthquake, snow avalanche, tsunami and severe weather as the Haines’ top five natural threats.