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New marine forecast zones coming to Alaska’s coastal waters

Courtesy of the National Weather Service
The entire state will see the 15-mile split. But some areas, like Bristol Bay and Prince William Sound, will get even more zones because they are larger areas in general, according to NWS meteorologist Aviva Braun.

The National Weather Service is reshaping its coastal waters across Alaska, adding new zones and more accurate forecasting.

“We decided to go ahead and pare down our marine zones,” said Aviva Braun, warning coordination meteorologist for the Anchorage weather service office. “So what is currently the coastal water forecast, which goes from shoreline up to 100 nautical miles, is now going from shoreline to 15 nautical miles, and then 15 nautical miles and out. So they’ll be split into two zones, essentially.”

The new nearshore zones will start in March. They are meant to provide Alaskans with more accurate forecasts and advisories, according to the federal agency.

We've gotten a lot of questions and feedback over the years that our marine zones are far too large — that a lot of the weather isn't always representative of what people are seeing on the surface,” Braun said.

Alaska has the longest coastline in the nation. With that comes a huge subsistence fishery, where harvesters are generally fishing within a few miles from the coast.

Braun said this zoning split stems from years of feedback from nearshore mariners, saying, "what [NWS] had in the forecast was not accurate: the wind far too strong, the waves far too high.” Braun added, “That was because it was capturing some of the more extreme conditions further out from the shoreline. And people would have to adjust either up or down. We don't want people to have to do that.”

The entire state will see the 15-mile split. But some areas, like Bristol Bay and Prince William Sound, will get even more zones because they are larger areas in general, Braun said.

The far west Aleutian Islands, starting after Adak, won’t actually see this nearshore change at all because there isn’t much traffic in the area, according to Braun.

In general, though, this rezoning will be more accurate, she said.

We're going to actually label precisely where we're ending,” Braun said. “In some locations, it's 70 nautical miles, some places 65, some 85, some 100 nautical miles, but we'll actually term it correctly so that everybody knows whether or not we are forecasting for that particular location.”

Anyone receiving weather service alerts or checking forecasts will see the new zones starting March 8. And even if there’s no difference in the area mariners are navigating, the zone identification numbers will change.

Braun said she hopes the new zoning improves forecasting, but if it doesn’t, the federal agency wants to know. This change is part of an ongoing process and NWS is encouraging feedback of all kinds.

Hailing from Southwest Washington, Maggie moved to Unalaska in 2019. She's dabbled in independent print journalism in Oregon and completed her Master of Arts in English Studies at Western Washington University — where she also taught Rhetoric and Composition courses.
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