Bethel was -15 degrees at the beginning of December, and the ground and Kuskokwim River is frozen solid. Now, with a quarter inch of rain having fallen over the past day, the rain has nowhere to go except on top of the snow and ice, making conditions in Western Alaska a mess. Planes from Anchorage are on delay, with 800-foot ceilings and an waterlogged, icy Bethel runway.
It looks like a sloppy Christmas is ahead.
“Christmas travel, medical travel, mail, medicines, groceries — everything comes in by air,” said Steve Strait, of KEDI radio, which broadcasts in Western Alaska. Dillingham is facing similar conditions.
“Forget about Christmas shopping. Christmas Eve forecast is for a half inch of rain, which can’t go into the frozen soil and is just running all over the ice. It’s back to snow machines. And this afternoon they’re looking at 35 mile per hour winds and right now an 800-foot ceiling,” he said.
According to KYUK radio, the inclement weather in recent days has stranded travelers in Bethel. In response, the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation created a temporary shelter to house some of them over the weekend. As of Dec. 21, patients who had not been able to fly home remained in at YKHC.
YKHC Public Information Officer Mary Horgan said that dozens of people were in Bethel for medical appointments when the stormy weather struck. Other people became stuck in Bethel who were traveling back to villages from appointments in Anchorage, according to KYUK.
Alaska Airlines Fight 43 from Anchorage to Bethel was delayed by several hours today.