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Record rainfall causes a mudslide into a mudroom of a home in Kodiak, warns of higher risk of future landslides

Kodiak's Public Works Dept. has a crew monitoring the flood and mudslide risk on East Hillcrest Avenue, above downtown Kodiak.
(Davis Hovey/KMXT)
Kodiak's Public Works Dept. has a crew monitoring the flood and mudslide risk on East Hillcrest Avenue, above downtown Kodiak.

Heavy rain drenched hillsides and flooded rivers around Kodiak last week. According to the National Weather Service, several inches fell in a matter of days, setting climate records and increasing the risk of landslides.

3.27 inches of rain fell in Kodiak between Wednesday at 4 a.m. on April 17 and 4 a.m. on Thursday morning, April 18, tying the local record for the most rainfall in a 24-hour period during the month of April. Throughout the day on April 17, 3.23 inches fell which is the highest calendar day total in April on record for Kodiak. The previous record was 2.99 inches of rain set in 1997.

And on Thursday afternoon, April 18, a mudslide ended up in the mudroom of one home off East Hillcrest Avenue, just above downtown. The local Emergency Operations Center said the home is under further evaluation by local engineers and appears to be stable. The residents have evacuated their home and are staying with other community members according to the Kodiak EOC’s report to the state.

The City of Kodiak’s public works staff cleared drainage ditches next to the property with excavators to divert water away from the home. According to Kodiak’s EOC and the National Weather Service, flooding risks in low lying areas around Bells Flats continued into Saturday but no other properties were affected by mudslides. Kodiak Island Borough’s Mayor, Scott Arndt mentioned during the April 18 Borough Assembly meeting that crews were monitoring the Service District Area 1, on the north end of town, and were keeping the culverts clear as best as possible to allow for maximum water flow.

Similarly, in 2014, Kodiak experienced flooding due to heavy rains which covered roads and caused several slides throughout the Kodiak Island Borough.

Rain accumulation
National Weather Service
Rain accumulation in Kodiak between April 16, 2024 and April 22, 2024.

Rain continued in Kodiak through Saturday, April 20, resulting in a total of over eight inches over roughly four days between April 16 – 20. Climatologists referred to this heavy rain event as an extreme ‘advection of moisture,’ or simply a firehose. In this case, it was in the form of a persistent storm that hung over Kodiak for several days.

“The highest three-day rainfall exceeded the previous spring record by one to two inches as there was enough rain Wednesday through Friday for this to rank in the top ten three-day rainfalls any time of year in all of Kodiak’s climate history,” Rick Thoman, a climatologist with the Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy (ACCAP) at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, said.

Typically, spring rainfall is not as heavy as it is in the fall for Alaska. But Thoman said the state as a whole has been experiencing wetter conditions in recent years. That’s mainly due to climate change causing warmer surface water temperatures across the Gulf of Alaska. That means more precipitation.

“We’re really under the firehose here in Alaska over the last five years. Temperatures have not been so extreme as they were in the late 2000-teens, but boy these high end precipitation events are really hammering the state,” Thoman explained.

On Nov. 20, 2023, Wrangell experienced a devastating and deadly landslide after a period of heavy rain in Southeast. During the aftermath and recovery, scientists warned that these extreme precipitation events could cause more landslides in the future.

Monique Lewis has a background in emergency management and works for the NWFF Environmental Company, which has an office in Kodiak. The company does a majority of its work in the Pacific Northwest. She commended the local municipalities on their work last week responding to a potential disaster in a timely manner. She said now is the time to prepare for landslides before they happen.

“Natural disasters in general. I think the timing of this phone call is actually pretty fortuitous because it’s my understanding that the City of Kodiak and Borough are working together to start the hazard mitigation planning process and put a little more thought and effort into that,” Lewis said.

The State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC) has offered the use of drones and other technology for slope stability assessments, but as of Friday the SEOC said no request for those resources in Kodiak had been made.

By Monday morning, April 22, water levels had receded in Kodiak and no further risks of landslides or flooding warnings were reported.