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High winds cause flooding in Barrow, prompts Shell to pause oil drilling

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Screen Shot 2015-08-28 at 08.10.57Yereth Rosen and Alex DeMarban: 27 August 2015

Huge, wind-whipped waves crashed onto the shore at Barrow on Thursday, forcing the closure of a nearby road, the National Weather Service reported. Westerly winds were gusting up to 50 miles an hour, pushing waves up to the top of the beach and causing some erosion, the National Weather Service said.

A National Weather Service employee in Barrow captured still images and video of the high waves and flooding.

The service has issued a coastal flood warning for Barrow until Friday morning, along with a high surf advisory for the western part of the North Slope and a gale warning for much of the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas. Seas up to 14 feet were forecast for Thursday in the Chukchi.

The big surf and flooding, which has covered a road that runs between the ocean and Barrow’s lagoon, is “not terribly unusual” at this time of the year, said Ryan Metzger, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Fairbanks. Fall is a stormy season, and the timing — right around the annual minimum sea ice extent — allows the surf to build and reach shore, he said.

Thursday’s high waves and flooding are products of a large storm that’s being felt as far as Southcentral Alaska, where high winds are forecast, Metzger said.

“It’s a pretty big low-pressure system that’s over the Arctic Ocean,” he said. The front associated with it dumped a lot of rain — over an inch in one day in Nome — and, in the Brooks Range, some snow, prompting a notice from the Alaska Department of Transportation about difficult driving conditions on the Dalton Highway, he said.

The Barrow flooding has had some ripple effects, said Mary Sage, a transportation specialist for the Inupiat Community of the Arctic Slope, a tribal government. Ilisagvik College, the local post-secondary institution, is closed because the flooded road is its access route, and some young children are being kept home from local schools, she said.

Barrow residents have come to expect such storms and floods at this time of year, when they “have no protection from the ice,” Sage said.

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