Record-breaking glacial flooding in Juneau, Alaska’s state capital, has led to a state of emergency after waters from the Mendenhall River caused unprecedented damage, destroying at least two buildings and prompting urgent evacuations. The surge occurred Saturday after a significant glacial dam outburst from Suicide Basin, a compartment of the 3,000-year-old Mendenhall Glacier, located roughly 12 miles north of Alaska’s capital.
Though no injuries were immediately reported, dramatic footage from the scene showcased a house, trees, and other structures being swallowed by the rising waters as they eroded the riverbanks. Additionally, authorities confirmed that the surging waters impacted numerous fuel tanks and hazardous material containers.
The National Weather Service (NWS) in Juneau highlighted that while floodwaters began receding Sunday, dangers remain, especially around the unstable banks of the Mendenhall River. Historically, Suicide Basin has been known to release glacier lake outburst floods affecting the Mendenhall Lake and River. However, this weekend’s flood levels peaked at a staggering 14.97 feet, easily surpassing the previous record of 11.99 feet set in 2016.
The origin of this yearly flooding traces back to an odd occurrence in 2011 when violent flooding from a basin above the glacier began on a day with no rain. This baffled meteorologists and hydrologists until they discovered that this basin’s pressure pushed water through the glacier, leading to unprecedented flooding. Each year, this basin fills, and the water finds its way out.
— NWS Juneau (@NWSJuneau) August 5, 2023
City officials continue to assess the structural damages and are coordinating with state and federal agencies in their response efforts. Residents impacted by the flooding are urged to contact the provided emergency lines for shelter and support. The Mendenhall River Bridge on Back Loop Road has been deemed safe and reopened, but some areas remain inaccessible due to debris. Authorities are pleading with the public to stay away from the river to avoid hampering relief efforts and to ensure their safety.
NWS meteorologist Andrew Park told the Washington Post it is too early to say if the flooding results from climate change.
Members of the public impacted by flooding and in need of guidance should contact (907) 586-0600.
According to Wikipedia, Juneau is home to Eaglecrest Ski Area, a public ski area on Douglas Island across the Gastineau Channel. The area is owned and operated by Juneau’s municipal government. Eaglecrest has four double chairlifts accessing 640 acres (2.6 km2), 36 marked alpine runs, two Nordic skiing loops, and access to world-class backcountry. Vertical drop is 1,620 ft (490 m), with an average snowfall of 320″ and a record snowfall of 640″ in 2011.