Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Alaska's warm winter

Anchorage is so snow-starved it has to haul snow in by train for Iditarod start

29 February, 2016

How weird has Anchorage's weather been this winter?

Weird enough that an Alaska Railroad spokesman said Monday that a train will deliver seven rail cars loaded with snow to the state's largest city this week in time for the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race ceremonial start on Saturday.

On top of that, the route for the Anchorage ceremonial start may not run the full 11 miles from Fourth Avenue to Campbell Airstrip, said Stan Hooley, Iditarod CEO, in a brief statement emailed Monday evening to Alaska Dispatch News.

It’s no secret that warm temperatures for days on end have further eroded what little snow cover existed on the trail system here in Anchorage,” the statement said. “We are exploring our options at this time as we very well may need to shorten our Day 1 Ceremonial Start.”

Hooley did not respond to a phone call Monday seeking details.

Jeff Barney, Fur Rendezvous executive director, said the snow from Fairbanks will get spread across portions of Anchorage’s streets and will help with Fur Rondy events, like the Running of the Reindeer on Saturday.

"The railroad is saving our behinds and bringing 300 cubic yards of snow," Barney said.

Barney said it's the first time he can remember Fur Rondy organizers having snow transported from outside of Anchorage for its events. Tim Sullivan, Alaska Railroad spokesman, said the snow will come from the Fairbanks railyard, hundreds of miles away.

The seven additional railcars filled with snow will be hooked onto the regularly scheduled freight train to Anchorage, he said. Sullivan said he expects the train to arrive Thursday morning.

Barney said no money will be exchanged for the Alaska Railroad's snow delivery.

"They're doing this out of the goodness of their hearts," he said. "It's huge for us."

Warmer-than-normal temperatures aren't expected to let up this week. The National Weather Service has forecast Anchorage temperatures in the mid-30s to low-40s through Friday, dipping into the 20s at night.

On Saturday, the day of the Iditarod ceremonial start, the forecast calls for partly sunny skies with temperatures in the 30s and a chance of snow showers at night. During the 29 days of February, the weather service recorded 1.8 inches of snow at its West Anchorage office, all of that falling Feb. 21.

As of Monday, there was no snow on the ground at the office, said Joe Wegman, weather service meteorologist. He said at least a trace of snow had stuck around since mid-January, but by now, “we’ve melted all of our snow, officially.”

Meanwhile at the Fairbanks International Airport Monday, there was about 13 inches of snow on the ground, said Don Aycock, a weather service forecaster. He said there’s typically about 21 inches of snow on the ground this time of year.

No-show snow has created problems for last two Iditarod races as well.

In 2015, race organizers moved the Iditarod restart from Willow to Fairbanks because of minimal snow coverage on rugged parts of the trail. The year before, low snow on the rough, bare trail through the Farewell Burn and treacherous Dalzell Gorge contributed to injuries that knocked some Iditarod mushers out of the race.

Race organizers in early February reported ample snow on much of the trail, though temperatures have warmed since then.

After Saturday’s ceremonial start, the teams are scheduled to leave from Willow Sunday afternoon and head toward Nome.

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