Weather is one of the tourism industry’s biggest foes in Alaska. Wind, rain, and fog can often determine whether a plane takes off. And, in Kodiak, it’s common for a commercial flight to turn around and head back to Anchorage if conditions aren’t favorable for landing.
While the weather has recently turned to sun again, it had been especially foggy over the last few weeks.
There are two ways to get to Kodiak Island: by air and by sea. And when it comes to fog, sea tends to be the more reliable method.
Tourism organization Discover Kodiak welcomes cruise ship passengers into town every summer. Executive director Aimee Williams says in late July a cruise ship left earlier than scheduled, partly because of weather.
“That wasn’t due to the fog that they left per se, but more that they had to anchor out and there was fog. They decided that it wasn’t safe enough for their passengers to shuttle ‘em back and forth due to the fog, so that’s why they left early, but we happened to have a ship at pier two that was broken and couldn’t be moved, so that just kind of made the perfect storm of circumstances there.”
Many cruise ship passengers drop by Kodiak just for a day and then leave. Williams says when conditions are bad, tourists don’t get to see the island in all its summer glory.
“I know some of the activities that they have already planned to do when they get here have been cancelled just because it’s not safe to do a lot of the bear viewing tours.”
Air taxi service co-owner Kyle Eaton says that’s why he asks tourists to stay for a few days at a time.
Kingfisher Air offers bear-viewing tours on the business’s three floatplanes. Eaton says the weather has been a problem for most of July, which along with August is their busiest month .
“The way this weather’s been working, we’ve been lucky just if we can get just one trip in a day. I guess we’ve been fortunate that the weather has been improving enough by the afternoon to get our flights launched, but it definitely makes scheduling and working a schedule pretty complicated.”
Eaton says weather issues for larger commercial airlines also have a trickle-down effect on his business. He says that happened recently.
“Alaska Airlines was delayed, so my day gets delayed, and suddenly it creates a lot of scheduling conflicts and issues and, in the end, there’s always the issue of who gets to go and who doesn’t get to go when the weather finally does break.”
He says it’s often safer not to fly if there’s low visibility.
“It’s not worth going out and risking somebody’s life for, but the pressure does get to you, because when you’ve been sitting for days and days and days and then somebody decides to take off and go what we call ‘take a look at it,’ it’s not necessarily a good thing.”
Eaton says fuel can cost anywhere from $120 to $200 dollars an hour, but they don’t burn fuel if they don’t fly. Bills for property taxes, insurance, and utilities meanwhile come all year ‘round. He says that’s what hits them hardest.
Eaton says they have time to bounce back if the weather is good for the rest of the summer. But he says it could be like last summer’s pink salmon season in the Gulf of Alaska – maybe it’ll just be a poor year.