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How’s the weather up there? It’ll be harder for Alaska to tell as a longtime program goes off air

by Sophia Chen
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weather program

Alaska’s long-running weather program, “Alaska Weather,” is going off air after 47 years, leaving residents concerned about the loss of vital information. The program, designed for rural and roadless areas of the state, provides separate forecasts for mariners, aviators, and residents to make informed decisions regarding hunting, fishing, and flying in extreme weather conditions. However, due to business considerations, the program will no longer be distributed to public television stations in Juneau and Fairbanks, marking its last on-air broadcast. Going forward, the program will only be available on YouTube, raising concerns for vulnerable residents in Indigenous communities with unreliable internet service or those who prefer traditional means of information gathering.

In Stebbins, a Yup’ik village with limited internet access, Morris Nashoanak, who relies on the program for subsistence hunting and fishing decisions, expressed the importance of “Alaska Weather.” Unfortunately, with slow and intermittent internet, some residents may be left without critical information. Traditionally, Alaska Public Media has provided the show through its Fairbanks station to the Alaska Rural Communication System, a network of low-power transmitters reaching rural areas. However, Alaska Public Media decided to discontinue distribution unless it received $50,000 annually from the federal government. While the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration agreed to provide the funds, a subsequent review revealed that the actual annual costs were $200,000, making it financially unfeasible for Alaska Public Media to continue the distribution.

Linda Wei, Alaska Public Media’s chief content officer, stated that distributing the show for free is no longer sustainable for the network. Allan Eustis, the show’s first anchor, who witnessed the program’s impact during his visits to distant villages, highlighted its importance for supporting subsistence hunting and whaling activities. Initially produced live at Alaska Public Media’s studios, the show was later moved to the National Weather Service’s office in Anchorage, where two meteorologists produce forecasts and film the segments. The program is then compiled by technicians at Alaska Public Media into a 30-minute show. With the on-air broadcast ending, the forecast segments will be uploaded to a National Weather Service YouTube channel.

Rick Thoman, a climate specialist, expressed disappointment at the discontinuation of the on-air broadcast, emphasizing the challenges faced by Alaskans in obtaining weather information without reliable internet connectivity. Although efforts are underway to address connectivity inequities in Alaska, building a robust network across the challenging terrain will take time. Even with internet access, unforeseen issues such as cable damage caused by ice scouring can disrupt services. The weather service and Alaska Public Media are open to further discussions and public input to explore alternative means of delivering weather information, although suggestions such as radio programs or podcasts may not support the visual graphics provided by the TV show.

Despite the ongoing efforts to bridge the digital divide in Alaska, the loss of “Alaska Weather” on public television raises concerns about the accessibility of vital weather information for rural and Indigenous communities in the state.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about weather program

What is the “Alaska Weather” program?

“Alaska Weather” is a long-running program that provides weather forecasts specifically designed for rural and roadless areas of Alaska. It offers separate forecasts for mariners, aviators, and residents, helping them make informed decisions regarding hunting, fishing, and flying in extreme weather conditions.

Why is the “Alaska Weather” program going off air?

The program is going off air due to business considerations. The distribution to public television stations in Juneau and Fairbanks will be discontinued, and the program will be available only on YouTube. This decision has raised concerns about accessibility for vulnerable residents with limited internet service or who prefer traditional means of information gathering.

How will the loss of the program affect Alaska’s residents?

The loss of the program may impact residents, especially those in far-flung Indigenous communities, as they rely on the weather information for subsistence hunting, fishing, and making important decisions in their everyday lives. With unreliable internet access and limited alternatives, some residents may be left without critical weather information, exacerbating the digital divide in the state.

Are there any efforts to address the accessibility issues?

Efforts are being made to address connectivity inequities in Alaska, including recent government initiatives to build broadband infrastructure in the state. However, building a robust network across challenging terrains takes time. The weather service and Alaska Public Media are open to further discussions and public input to explore alternative means of delivering weather information, considering suggestions such as radio programs or podcasts.

Will there be any support for rural communities with limited internet access?

While the future support for rural communities with limited internet access is not explicitly mentioned in the text, there are ongoing efforts to address connectivity issues in Alaska, including funding for broadband infrastructure. It remains a topic of concern and discussion, as ensuring access to vital weather information for all residents, including those in remote areas, is crucial.

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