Weather Blog

Big storm off Alaska has cargo ships seeking shelter

Big storm off Alaska has cargo ships seeking shelter

What do you do when you're encountering 31-foot waves and wind gusts over 100 mph? Certainly not stick around.

The Coast Guard has granted permission for five foreign cargo ships to take shelter near some of the Aleutian Islands and wait out a monster storm that is churning in the Gulf of Alaska?

How strong? So low it messed up the computers.

This surface chart accidentally painted the storm as a 1036 mb center instead of the actual 936 milibars it is. That's because the pressure is usually transmitted without the first 9 or 10 and the computer just assumes when it gets "36" it means 1036 because it can't be 936. Only in this case, it is. That is on par with a Category 4 hurricane and converted to inches of mercury, has a storm pressure of 27.64".

Not all that far away in central Alaska is a true 1035 mb high pressure center, meaning a 100 milibar difference in pressure over 1,800 miles or so. Or translated, that means it's really windy.

So windy that the Coast Guard granted those special requests for shelter in American waters in the name of safety.

The agency says storms of this magnitude are not unusual in the Gulf in the winter.

"Every winter we have several significant storms in the North Pacific and the Bering Sea resulting in numerous vessels seeking shelter in the lee of the Aleutians," said Capt. Adam Shaw, chief of prevention for the 17th Coast Guard District. "Having five vessels seek shelter at the same time is unusual. However, it is not unusual for the Coast Guard to grant storm avoidance requests as part of our ongoing mission to ensure safety of life at sea."

Including these five, the Coast Guard has granted 10 storm avoidance requests since October. Upon granting a request, the Coast Guard will direct vessels to safer locations and maintain scheduled communications. The vessels can remain in shelter until the weather abates or the vessel master determines it is safe to continue the voyage.

(And no, that storm is not coming to the Northwest. It will fizzle in the Gulf a bit before making landfall up around Skagway.)