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Powerful ocean storm blasting Alaskan islands

November 8, 2014

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Near hurricane-strength winds blasted parts of Alaska’s Aleutian Islands as the remnants of Typhoon Nuri moved through the remote region hundreds of miles from the mainland.

Sustained winds of 70 mph (113 kph) and gusts up to 96 mph (155 kph) were recorded Friday morning on Shemya Island, where 120 people had locked themselves indoors to wait out the storm.

The island is home to the U.S. military’s Eareckson Air Station, which serves mainly as an early warning radar installation. Acting manager Don Llewellyn said no one was going outside, but people can see light poles waving.

But toward evening, the winds had eased enough to allow personnel to get outside and check for any storm damage, said Tommie Baker, public affairs officer for the Alaskan Command.

“A couple of the buildings had some minor damage, but there were no injuries,” he said.

He estimated that by 5 p.m. Friday, sustained winds had dropped to 45-65 mph (72-105 kph)with gusts of 80 mph (130 kph).

The brunt of the storm is expected to pass into the Bering Sea and lose strength, but forecasters warned it will still push unseasonably frigid air into much of the U.S. next week.

“It’s going to slowly weaken all the way through Sunday,” National Weather Service meteorologist Jason Ahsenmacher said. “It’s going to be a very slow process.”

Forecasters said waves could be as high as 50 feet (15 meters), prompting ships and fishing vessels to get out of the storm’s path or seek protected harbors.

Ahsenmacher said late Friday night that he hasn’t heard of any problems regarding shipping.

“Most mariners know about this storm and they are trying to stay away,” he said.

The storm was expected to surpass the intensity of 2012′s Superstorm Sandy and has the potential to be one of the most intensive to ever hit the North Pacific, meteorologists said. But while Sandy was blamed for at least 182 deaths and $65 billion in damage on the East Coast, Nuri’s target is a sparsely populated region with just a few small communities where people are accustomed to severe weather.

Friday’s high temperature was in the mid-40s Fahrenheit (6 to 8 degrees Celsius) in Shemya, which is in a sub-polar region that doesn’t get the same bitter cold as Alaska’s interior. But the island 1,500 miles (2,400 kilometers) southwest of Anchorage gets plenty of extreme weather, including 100-mph (160-kph) winds. The community averages six weather-related lockdowns a year, Llewellyn said.

The system is expected to freeze much of the lower 48 states next week, forecaster Bruce Sullivan said. Snow also is coming to areas including the northern Rockies and northern Plains.

In Great Falls, Montana, the high temperature is predicted to be 17 degrees F (minus 8.5 degrees Celsius) Tuesday, compared with the normal high of 43 F (6C), Sullivan said. The forecast for Sioux Falls, South Dakota, is a high of 25 F (minus 4 C), which is about 20 degrees below normal. High temperatures in Minneapolis will only reach the upper 20s.

Amid prospects that the storm could dip into the upper Midwest, National Weather Service meteorologist Gino Izzi in Chicago offered a warning to that region’s populace: Winter is about to hit, sooner there than usual.

In the Aleutians, the storm’s path includes a busy maritime route for cargo ships traveling between the U.S. and Asia, as well as the red king crab fishery made famous by the Discovery Channel reality show “Deadliest Catch.” Mariners were finding protected harbors or moving away from the path, according to Brett Farrell with the nonprofit Marine Exchange of Alaska. No one in their right mind would stick around that area, he said.

Officials are also closely watching the western coast of Alaska’s mainland, according to Jeremy Zidek, a spokesman for the state Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. Fall storms routinely batter many coastal communities, and erosion has long been a problem.

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