by Bethel Search and Rescue
BSAR Aerial Survey 11.19.18
Today BSAR did an aerial survey of the Johnson and Kuskokwim Rivers up to Kalskag. The purpose of the flight was not to determine if it was safe to travel. With the extended warm weather everybody should already understand that it’s not safe.
There is very little ice that is well frozen. The purpose of today’s flight was to document the late extended freeze up conditions that are becoming the “new normal” for our region and the effect it is having on our way of life.
There are over 15,000 People living along our River. With the current unsafe travel conditions we are all almost 100% dependent on air travel to get where we need to go. But the warm moist weather and associated fog is affecting the reliability of air travel as well.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) tells us that the temperature of the Bering Sea is very warm. The effects of this was easy to see as we flew today—especially in the Lower River. Conditions improved slightly as we flew inland…but not much.
The Swiss Cheese: this is how most of the ice in the Johnson River & Lower Kuskokwim looks.
From 9 miles below Akiak upstream to Kalskag the ice is packed in rough with at least four areas where the River is wide open almost bank to bank.
The Atmautluak Trail has seen light traffic in recent days.
The Johnson River has major open water all along its length.
Akiak Area: from the Upper End of Kuskokuak Slough on upstream there are long stretches of packed rough ice mixed in with huge stretches of open water!
It’s Not All Bad News: The Infamous Coffee’s Bend (10 miles below Kalskag) that is wide open most years is packed in pretty good with only a few small open holes!
Not too late to mention: many of the bigger lakes in the Tundra still have large open areas.
It’s been a dangerous patchwork freeze up. The normal freeze up process of the Lower River freezing first and then the ice backing up behind it on up the River isn’t fully working right leaving large areas that might take a long time to heal. At least in the Middle River there are those long stretches of rough ice that are stronger.
But we’ll see—the ice was reported to be moving again at Aniak after being stopped for a few days.
The Lower River is even worse off with almost all of it thin ice and open water. Right now we need a couple of weeks of cold weather with no snowfall and things could get better fast.
That’s our report for this week.
Happy Thanksgiving & Be Safe from Everyone at Bethel Search & Rescue!