Years ago when this house was built, precipitation in mid-October fell in the form of snow, at least in the higher elevations around Chignik Lake, Alaska. But this year, warm weather and consecutive days of rain have pushed the lake close to record levels and the water is still rising. This house, incidentally, was previously abandoned.
The alders surrounding this abandoned, flooded house, too, are a new feature around Chignik Lake which until a few years ago was largely bereft of trees. Now there’s a new thermal dynamic in effect: The trees themselves are darker than the berry plants, sedges and grasses they’re replacing. These darker alders draw in more solar heat, further warming the land, creating a better growing environment for more alders in a cycle that is rapidly changing the landscape. Note the flooded jungle gym on the right. When I asked local residents if this kind of flooding is normal for this time of year, the answer was an emphatic “No.”
While the village’s 50 or so inhabitants are remaining high and dry, the lake’s banks are now perilously close to our neighbor’s duplex and the spring I noticed gushing from beneath the foundation can’t be good. By the way, the blue spruce trees visible in the background were planted decades ago when the Aleut and Alutiiq Natives who had long utilized this area as hunting and fishing grounds decided to build a permanent village here.
Fortunately our own home – the right side of this duplex- is on a little rise overlooking the lake and should be fine. These same-looking buildings are part of the school and the teacher housing complex and, in an appropriate twist on history, are built on land temporarily ceded back to the the government from the Native Alaskans who own it.
The village post office is located on the ground floor of the house in the center of this photo. Normally it’s about a two-and-a-half minute walk from our home, but after four days of rain and with more coming (it’s raining even as I write this) we may need to borrow a skiff to get our mail. The real story in this photo is the small, cold, crystal clear stream that normally flows under this road through a large culvert. Just four weeks ago, the stream filled with Dolly Varden char (a species closely related to brook trout) making their way up from the lake on their annual fall spawning run. With high water blowing out the stream, I can only assume that most of the char’s redds (spawning beds) have become silted in with sand and mud, suffocating the eggs. Thus, an entire year class of char may be lost.
A similar concern exists for the tens of thousands of salmon redds in the river below Chignik Lake as well as thousands of Sockeye salmon reds along the shore of the lake itself. Flooding water is particle-laden water, and these nests are in danger of being silted in. Again, in past years when October precipitation fell as snow, this would not have been a problem.
Barbra doing her best “on the scene weather watch report” impersonation in front of Chignik Lake’s rising water yesterday evening. As far as I can determine, we don’t have an official meteorological station here in the village, and reports from the next closest station can be wildly inaccurate due to mountains and a marine effect. Up to this point, winds – some of them gusting to gale force – have been coming out of the south. There’s a lull at the moment. The concern is that when those winds switch around and start coming out of the Northeast – which they invariably seem to do here – additional water will be pushed out of the upper lake, Black Lake, down the Black River and into Chignik Lake. So even as the rain appears to be subsiding somewhat, we may continue to see rising water levels.