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Weather Talk: Climate change may force Alaskan town to move

Kivalina, a village in northwest Alaska on the seacoast, may well become the first U.S. community to be relocated or face abandonment from the effects of global climate change.

The problems in Kivalina are multi-faceted, but the biggest problems are associated with changes in sea ice. The sea now freezes over much later in the fall and opens up earlier in the spring. Ice was routinely 12 feet thick years ago but now is often unsafe for travel.

But the biggest problem is the additional months of ice-free conditions during fall, spring and sometimes midwinter. Terrible blizzards, common to the area, are now causing severe beach erosion when the sea is open. This threatens to wash the town into the sea.

The town has plans to relocate the school on a hill 7 miles inland. But the total cost of relocating the town would run into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

John Wheeler

John was born in Baton Rouge, LA, and grew up near Birmingham, Alabama. As a teenager, his family moved to Madison, Wisconsin, and later to a small town in northeast Iowa. John traces his early interest in weather to the difference in climate between Alabama and Wisconsin. He is a graduate of Iowa State University with a degree in meteorology. Like any meteorologist, John is intrigued by extremes of weather, especially arctic air outbreaks and winter storms.  John has been known to say he prefers his summers to be hot but in winter, he prefers the cold.  When away from work, John enjoys long-distance running and reading.  John has been a meteorologist at WDAY since May of 1985.

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