Saturday, August 02, 2008

Fairbanks North Star Borough Mayor Jim Whitaker Declares Greater Fairbanks, Alaska A Disaster Area Due To Flooding

Flooding in the Greater Fairbanks area, triggered by persistent rainfall twice the normal amount over a short period of time. has caused the Mayor of the Fairbanks North Star Borough, Jim Whitaker, to issue a "Declaration of Disaster Emergency" on July 31st, 2008. Not only does this allow Governor Sarah Palin to consider a state declaration, but is a necessary precursor to a federal declaration as well. However, officials are now predicting that the worst is over; see new story published by the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, and a News-Miner editorial column HERE. Fairbanks blogger Tony Roof has also posted some pictures.

Updates are also frequently posted on the main page of the Fairbanks North Star Borough website. Click HERE to view the current NWS Doppler radar progression for Interior Alaska (link also permanently posted on the sidebar of this blog).

Moist upslope flow dumped excessive amounts of rainfall into watershed areas east and southeast of the Greater Fairbanks area, similar to the configuration triggering disastrous flooding in 1967. A news video from KTVF Channel 11 in Fairbanks provides a more graphic explanation, provided by their meteorologist:

FLOOD FACTS: Rapid collection of rainwater runoff in the Tanana Valley Drainage caused record high water levels and severe flooding throughout and beyond the Fairbanks North Star Borough (FNSB). Click HERE to view map of general area.

Early Monday, July 28th most tributaries of the Tanana River Drainage Area swelled to capacity causing the Tanana River to flood in the Salcha area. By Tuesday evening, July 29th, flood warnings were in effect from Salcha to Nenana. Early Wednesday, July 30th, the Rosie Creek area in Fairbanks reported flooding with impassible roads in the low-lying areas. The rapid water flow of the Tanana at the mouth of the Chena River caused a backflushing effect of the Chena River resulting in flooding in the lower Chena River effecting the Chena Pump Road area. Flooding or near flooding in sloughs and failed culverts were reported in Fairbanks, North Pole and Salcha.

At 10PM July 30th, the National Weather Service reported that the Tanana River had peaked and water levels were decreasing on the Tanana and Salcha rivers. At 4AM on July 31st, the water level on the Tanana River just upstream from the mouth of the Chena River peaked at 26.53’, the second highest water level on record. The highest record water level on the Tanana River was recorded during the 1967 flood at 27.8’.

On July 31st, Fairbanks North Star Borough Mayor Jim Whitaker proclaimed a “Declaration of Disaster Emergency”. This request allows Governor Palin to consider a state issued disaster declaration for the flooding area.

At approximately 3:30AM on August 1st, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers activated the Chena Flood Control Project to provide some relief to the City of Fairbanks and the lower Chena River. The Chena Flood Control Project, devised after the disastrous 1967 floods which inundated 95 percent of the city of Fairbanks, consists of a channel which diverts excess Chena River water into the Tanana River east of town, augmented by a levee along the east bank of the Tanana to ensure its water doesn't spill back into Fairbanks. Below is a graphical representation of the Project, originating HERE:

As of August 1st an estimated 300 homes have been damaged by the flooding throughout the FNSB (since upgraded to 500). Groundwater flooding is occurring nearby previously flooded areas. As of this date, 23,000 sand bags and sand have been distributed. Potable water was made available in Salcha and Rosie Creek.

SALCHA FLOODING: An estimated 100-150 homes experienced flooding in areas of the Old Boondox Bar to north of Stringer Road including the Old Richardson Highway and Old Valdez Trail.

ROSIE CREEK FLOODING: An estimated 50-100 homes experienced flooding in the Rosie Creek and Chena Pump Road areas. The Red Cross established an emergency shelter at the University Park Elementary School.

NENANA FLOODING: According to the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, further downstream, at Nenana to the west-southwest of Fairbanks, the effects were worse. The Tanana River is running at 14.3 feet, only four feet lower than the all-time record set in 1967. The unused basement of Coghill’s General Store was flooded with about seven feet of water and it appeared to be rising at a rate of about a quarter-inch per hour. Water was seen on several roads in Nenana, and flooding forced the town’s clinic to temporarily relocate to the fire department’s headquarters. Flood waters also submerged the Alaska Railroad’s mainline track in Nenana. All freight and passenger train operations between Nenana and Fairbanks have been halted; railroad passengers between Anchorage and Fairbanks detrain at Denali and bus into Fairbanks. Further downstream, Tanana Chiefs Conference was forced to evacuate the Old Minto Family Recovery Camp.

What's gratifying is the cooperative response by the community to this disaster. People are working together to help each other; no reports of looting. Contrast this to the response by New Orleans residents after Katrina. The way New Orleans behaved after Katrina gave America a black eye and will be a permanent reproach upon the reputation of the city. Very few people nurture any respect for New Orleans any more; it's basically Detroit-on-the-Bayou.

State officials will visit Fairbanks on August 2nd, after which Governor Palin is expected to issue a state disaster declaration. Ironically, President George W. Bush is scheduled to visit Fairbanks on August 4th, primarily to deliver a pep talk to military personnel from Fort Wainwright and Eielson AFB; perhaps he'll issue the federal declaration at that time.

Those who are interested in learning more about the 1967 Fairbanks flood can review a UAF story HERE, read a Sitka News story HERE, read this Fairbanks history account HERE, and look at pictures HERE and HERE.


  1. Also there's this timing on Palin VP announcement:

    1. Several days after gasline passed in Alaska.

    2. Several days before the Olympics.

    3. Ideally before Obama names his Veep (especially if Obama were to name a woman or Hillary).

    Perhaps Monday (tomorrow Aug 4).

  2. If you'd like copies of the two graphs referenced in the text email me at

    Yes Flooding IS Inevitable….
    But The Damage Is Not!

    As you well know

    The next flood is coming. Just like the next sunrise, full moon and bad TV sitcom, the next flood is always coming, unless it already here. There is simply no way to avoid that fact. If you live in an area that has flooded before it IS going to flood again. Beyond that, based on recent events and predictions of global warming, the expectations for the next flood, grows higher every day. You’ve seen the expanding flood plain maps being re-drawn by multiple engineering firms under contract to FEMA. From these it’s clear what the “experts” see for the future. These two graphs point out the seriousness of the situation. In the first graph you can see that the number, of reported US flood events, has increased in frequency by an order of 12 times from 1950 to 2000.

    In this second graph you can see the economic impact of flooding since 1900.

    With an average annual loss of over $6 billion through 2004 the trend in both cases is clear. Expect more floods and higher losses well into the future.
    In the past the inevitability of flooding, and the damage it bring was something we all just had to live with. The obvious conclusion from the reality these graphs depict is that this cannot be our attitude or operating philosophy any longer. The cost of inaction is too high and the constant increase in insurance payouts is unsustainable.

    Many communities, to their credit, have started to take real steps to reduce the losses. They have requested help from organizations and experts such as FEMA and the USACE to develop long range plans for flood protection. These plans require surveys (new flood plain maps), analysis of the data, design of a solution, engineering, and eventual construction. Each stage takes time and the more difficult component, money. Funding, becomes the limiting factor at each stage of the project and time becomes the enemy, because always, the next flood is coming. Most of the projects take a decade or more to complete. That’s another 10 years, at least, of flood damage, and disaster clean-up for every community that has flooding issues.

    Because, for the thousands of years of human civilization, we have had floods and flood damage we consider that damage inevitable. We have viewed the damage as inevitable as the flood it self. However, maybe for the first time in history, we now have ways to erect barriers to protect us from that damage, on an emergency basis.

    We could, of course, all just move to high ground, get away from those areas that flood and we wouldn’t have the damage to worry about. This sounds good, but with a roughly 70% of the worlds population living in areas that are coastal or flood threatened, our options for making this kind of wholesale move just aren’t practical. The amount of capital and infrastructure development already in place makes moving to higher ground beyond our means. Add that to the visceral desire that humans have for being in close proximity to water and moving to avoid flooding becomes even more unlikely.

    As a culture, we found that fire was a serious danger to homes and commercial property. So we invented and developed things like, fire departments, fire extinguishers, sprinkler systems. We did that because we understood the costs involved in not doing it and because we could. They proved so effective that they have now been written into local laws, local ordinances, engineering and architectural design standards. They are considered absolute necessities for any modern structure. We put vaults in banks and carry umbrellas even when it isn’t raining because we believe that being ready for what is sure to come eventually makes more sense than just hoping it doesn’t happen.

    With regard to flooding and flood damage, however, there has never been a way to provide reliable emergency protection. Of course, we could endeavor to build sandbag dikes, earthen barriers or use material like plywood, plastic sheeting and other unsuitable stuff. People, in need, have and will, use whatever they can find to try and protect valuable and threatened property when the flood is underway. It is a historical fact that in an unacceptably high percentage of cases those efforts were expensive, time consuming and produced results with little or no positive effect. In fact these means are so expensive, time consuming and ineffective that most people simply abandon the flooded areas and hope the damage isn’t too bad. Hope becomes the single most often used strategy for flood damage mitigation.

    Permanent barriers are aesthetically unappealing. They restrict access and vistas that are the key attributes we find most valuable in many coastal, river, stream, lake and other waterside resort and recreational areas. For hundreds of weeks in a row we love the water and then for a few days the water rises and during those times we need to protect ourselves and our property. In some cases they are the only good options and are essential. However, in the vast majority of cases permanent walls and barricades are not the best option.

    One emergency flood barrier system that has solved many of the drawbacks to other similar products is FLOODWALLS. You can learn more about this new innovative emergency flood barrier at