Taku River flooding could near record

Roughly 40 cabins could be affected by rising water

Posted: Friday, July 24, 2009

The Taku River is flooding, and this year could be a big one.

Courtesy Of Carson Paul
Courtesy Of Carson Paul

"Anybody with property along the Taku River should be taking actions now," said National Weather Service forecaster Christopher Cox. "The event that we're looking at is significant."

Yards and some houses on the river will flood, the forecasters said in a flood warning Thursday morning. Some 40 cabins lie along the river.

With above-average snowpack this winter and above-average temperatures this summer, the warning states that "this outburst could be a repeat of the 2004 event."

That's what Taku property owners worry about. Cabin owners are used to the river's annual floods, but 2004 was a big deal.

Ron Haffner, who owns one of the cabins on the river, posted a picture on his Web site, takuriver.com, of a cabin that floated five miles downriver and landed in his front yard during the 2004 flood.

He said he was going up Friday to check on his cabin.

On Thursday afternoon, waters were at 42 feet, a foot from official flood stage. The weather service predicts the waters will probably pass 44 feet and could reach 45 feet - the record set in 2004.

Each year, two lakes behind the Tulsequah Glacier burst over their glacial dams and flood the river. The flood is called a jökulhlaup, an Icelandic term (pronounced YO-kul-hloip). While Tulsequah Lake is dying and its flood was hardly noticed, Lake Nolake has grown tenfold in size since 1958 and has caused the major floods in recent years.

The size of the flood depends on how full the lake is, how much has melted, and how much the glacier is in the way, said warning and coordination meteorologist Joel Curtis at the weather service.

"These things are tricky. You can't really predict when they're going to bust. They just do," said Curtis, who predicted the water would reach moderate flooding by noon Friday.

Navigating the river can be more hazardous during the flood, as dislodged logs and ice chunks float down the river. Docks could be damaged. The water also is dramatically colder than usual.

• Contact reporter Kate Golden at 523-2276 or kate.golden@juneauempire.com.

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