Because the population and infrastructure densities are far less than in the rest of the US, Alaska’s extreme events do not make the “billion-dollar disaster.” However, when normalized by the size of the local, regional, or even state economy, the impacts of these events on a per-capita basis can be greater in Alaska than elsewhere in the US. Human and social impacts can be especially severe in vulnerable, isolated communities of the state. While substantial social and economic impacts have occurred, there is no existing compilation or catalog of societal impacts of extreme events in Alaska.
ACCAP will collaborate with the National Weather Service and Alaska community members to create a searchable catalog, or database, of socioeconomic impacts of extreme weather events in Alaska. The events will include coastal flooding and erosion, drought and fire, coastal storms, rain-on-snow events, and extreme temperatures. Sources of information will include newspaper reports, publications such as NOAA’s Storm Data, other information from the National Weather Service and, more recently, the Internet.
While not all events impacting Alaska will be identifiable, the major events will be, and it will be possible to at least rank the economic impacts by type of event and by region within Alaska. While the ultimate scope of this impact assessment will be statewide, we will begin with a prototype investigation that focuses on Nome, Alaska.
Nome offers several advantages for such a study: a near continuous record of newspaper coverage since 1899 to identify extreme event impacts, a first-order weather station with data extending back to the 1800s, and a population that is mid-range relative to other Alaskan communities (i.e., smaller than Anchorage, Barrow and Juneau but larger than the many rural villages).
The Nome prototype project will have four steps:
- assess perceptions of weather and climate-related extreme event impacts by Nome community members (the types of events that impact the community and surrounding area, key impacts of concern, how extreme event impacts are defined, thresholds, frequencies of occurrence)
- review newspaper accounts and any other available information on extreme event impacts
- assess variations and trends in the frequency and impacts of extreme events
- develop a database that may be queried by users.
The database will include information on the meteorological nature of the event, its date and duration, the types of impacts quantified to the extent that available information allows, and any additional information that may be relevant to planning for similar events in the future. This project has benefits for science (forecasting) as well as decision making.