Home Features Devastating Glacier Break Triggers Major Flooding Emergency in Juneau, Alaska

Devastating Glacier Break Triggers Major Flooding Emergency in Juneau, Alaska

by Editorial Desk
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“Major Flooding in Alaska Caused by Glacier Break, Emergency Declaration Issued”

City officials in Juneau, Alaska, are taking urgent action after a glacial break led to widespread flooding near the city, causing significant damage to buildings and structures.

The flooding is a result of a rupture in Suicide Basin, a side basin connected to the Mendenhall Glacier, located about 12 miles north of Alaska’s state capital. This type of flooding, known as a glacial lake outburst flood, happens when a natural dam holding back a glacial lake breaks. The National Weather Service reports that the flooding has already devastated several structures along the Mendenhall River. Rob Barr, deputy city manager of Juneau, shared that two homes have been completely lost, and another has suffered partial damage before being washed away.

Additional buildings, including a condo complex that is now in a precarious state due to undermining, are also at risk. The river is currently filled with debris and fallen trees, creating what the NWS describes as an “extreme” flooding situation.

This flooding event was so unexpected that it had a less than 1% chance of occurring, according to National Weather Service Juneau hydrologist Aaron Jacobs. He mentioned, “We never even considered that this could happen.” Shocking video footage captured by resident Sam Nolan reveals a multi-story building collapsing into the river. Nolan sadly recounts watching the destruction unfold for over an hour, feeling helpless in the face of the rising floodwaters.

Residents have also recorded other videos showing debris and trees floating in the Mendenhall River, located near Juneau International Airport.

The water level of Mendenhall Lake reached a peak of 14.97 feet on Saturday around 11:15 p.m. local time, far surpassing the previous record of 11.99 feet in July 2016. Areas that have not historically experienced flooding are now reporting significant inundation, leading to substantial erosion along the riverbanks. The National Weather Service notes that the water level has been receding quickly at a rate of 0.7 feet per hour, but the flooding continues.

Numerous roads and bridges in the region have been closed due to the flooding, as reported by the city of Juneau. Emergency operations are urging residents to avoid the river until the flooding subsides. Notably, Suicide Basin has been causing glacial lake outburst floods and subsequent flooding of Mendenhall Lake and Mendenhall River since 2011, according to the National Weather Service.

A study published in Nature Climate Change in 2021 highlighted that the risk of flooding from melting glaciers is expected to rise as the climate continues to warm.

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