ANCHORAGE, Alaska – An explosive storm surpassing the intensity of 2012's Superstorm Sandy is barreling toward Alaska's western Aleutian Islands with hurricane-force winds, and is expected to bring unseasonably frigid temperatures to much of the U.S. next week, weather forecasters said.
Gusts up to 96 mph were recorded Friday morning on Shemya Island, where 120 people are waiting out the storm at the end of the island chain.
Shemya Island is where the U.S. military operates Eareckson Air Station, which serves mainly as an early warning radar installation. Acting manager Don Llewellyn says no one is going outside, but people can see light poles waving.
What remains of Typhoon Nuri is moving northeast from off the Japanese coast and is mixing with cold air and the jet stream, which will give it the power to produce hurricane-force winds and waves 50 feet high. It could arrive late Friday or Saturday before weakening in the Bering Sea, the National Weather Service said.
The storm potentially could be one of the most intensive to ever hit the North Pacific, weather service forecaster Brian Hurley said. The Coast Guard and Alaska state emergency responders were keeping a close eye on its strength.
National Weather Service forecaster Bob Oravec says the storm is expected to surpass the intensity of 2012's Superstorm Sandy. But Nuri's target is a sparsely populated region where people are accustomed to severe weather.
The system is expected to push cold air into much of the lower 48 states next week, Oravec said. By the weekend, high temperatures in Minneapolis will only reach the upper 20s, and mid-30s are expected in Chicago — more than 15 degrees below normal.
Snow also is coming to areas including the northern Rockies and northern Plains.
"It looks like winter's starting early," Oravec said.
While Sandy caused destruction along the urban East Coast, Nuri's target in the north is a sparsely populated region with a few small communities that are accustomed to severe weather.
In fact, 69 mph wind gusts blew in last week in the western Aleutian town of Adak, a former Naval Air Station east of Nuri's direct route that retains its military appearance. To prepare for the storm, the community's 100 year-round residents were tying down loose items like picnic tables, storage containers and pallets, and parking cars differently so doors won't get blown off, city manager Layton Lockett said.
A multiuse building that houses the town's school can also be used as an emergency center if necessary.
"If it gets really bad, you know, everybody'll come over here, camp out a little bit, have fun and drink cocoa," Lockett said.
The storm's path includes a busy maritime route for cargo ships traveling to or from Asia, as well as the red king crab fishery made famous by the Discovery Channel reality show "Deadliest Catch." Vessels are finding protected harbors or moving away from the path, according to Brett Farrell with the Marine Exchange of Alaska, a nonprofit maritime organization. No one in their right mind would stick around that area, he said.
With most of the red king crab quota caught, the season is winding down, said Mark Gleason, executive director of the Seattle-based trade association Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers. He said the coming storm is huge but the fleet has decades of experience dealing with severe conditions. Crews will hunker down and wait out the weather, then move on and do the job that needs to be done, he said.
"This isn't some kid's sailing class," Gleason said. "These guys are professionals. They know what they're doing."
Officials are also closely watching the western coast of Alaska's mainland, according to Jeremy Zidek, a spokesman for the state Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. Fall storms routinely batter many coastal communities, and erosion has long been a problem.