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

by Joshua Brown
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weather program

Alaska’s long-running weather program, “Alaska Weather,” is going off the air after 47 years of providing crucial forecasts to residents in rural and roadless areas. The program, produced by the National Weather Service, has been a lifeline for those in Alaska, where extreme weather significantly impacts daily life. Unfortunately, due to business considerations, the program’s distribution to public television stations in Juneau and Fairbanks will cease, and it will only be available on YouTube going forward. This change has raised concerns for vulnerable residents, particularly those in Indigenous communities with unreliable internet access or who prefer traditional means of receiving information.

One such resident, Morris Nashoanak from the Yup’ik village of Stebbins, expressed the importance of the program for him and other Alaska Native residents who rely on it to determine whether it’s safe to engage in activities like hunting and fishing. The program has provided valuable guidance for subsistence hunters and fishers, informing their decisions and ensuring their safety. However, with the shift to YouTube, residents in far-flung Indigenous communities with limited internet service may find themselves on the wrong side of Alaska’s digital divide.

The program was traditionally distributed by Alaska Public Media through its Fairbanks station to the Alaska Rural Communication System, which broadcasts free programming across rural Alaska. However, Alaska Public Media decided to discontinue distribution unless it could secure $50,000 annually from the federal government. Although the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration agreed to provide the funding, subsequent reviews revealed that the total annual costs amounted to $200,000, making it financially unsustainable for Alaska Public Media to continue distributing the show for free.

Allan Eustis, the show’s first anchor, recognized the program’s significance during his visits to remote villages where people relied on the show to support their subsistence hunts, particularly during whaling season. He believes that if there’s a reason to keep the program, it’s to continue supporting these communities. Initially produced live at Alaska Public Media’s studios, the show transitioned to the National Weather Service’s office in Anchorage in 2017, where a small TV studio was set up.

Now, the three forecast segments will be uploaded to a National Weather Service YouTube channel. However, this shift raises concerns about the accessibility of weather information for those without reliable internet connectivity. Rick Thoman, a climate specialist at the International Arctic Research Center, emphasized the difficulties faced in western and northern Alaska due to limited internet access. He called the end of the on-air broadcast a shame and highlighted the need for alternative communication channels, especially in regions with poor connectivity.

Despite efforts by the government, including additional funding for broadband infrastructure, addressing connectivity inequities in Alaska will take time due to the challenging terrain. Furthermore, even when internet connectivity is available, unforeseen circumstances like damage to infrastructure can disrupt the distribution of vital information. Both the weather service and Alaska Public Media remain open to further discussions to find alternative ways to deliver weather information, including considering suggestions from rural residents, such as radio programs or podcasts. However, these alternatives may not provide the same level of visual graphics that the current TV program offers, posing a challenge to finding an adequate replacement.

In conclusion, the departure of “Alaska Weather” from on-air broadcasts marks the end of an era for the state’s long-standing weather program. While efforts are being made to address connectivity issues and explore alternative distribution methods, the transition to YouTube raises concerns about accessibility for Alaska’s remote and vulnerable communities. The importance of reliable weather information in Alaska’s extreme climate cannot be understated, and finding effective ways to bridge the digital divide and support these communities remains a pressing issue.

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