Train Travels 360 Miles To Deliver Snow For Iditarod — Is Climate Change To Blame?

Alaska’s Iditarod ain’t what it used to be.

For the first time in its history, the city of Anchorage has shipped in train loads of snow so that the famous dog sled race can complete its ceremonial opening route on Saturday.

Winter has been so mild in Alaska that all of the city’s snow has melted, and so has its rainy-day backup stockpile of snow put aside just for the Iditarod, USA Today reported. Unfortunately, the trainloads of snow — shipped in from hundreds of miles away — still isn’t enough.

The Iditarod’s opening route usually traverses 11 miles of local streets and trails, but this year it will stretch for only three.

“Anchorage’s street maintenance, parks and recreation and police departments worked very hard to find a way for us to go the full 11 miles,” said Stan Hooley of the Iditarod Trail Committee, according to NBC News. “Unfortunately, the warm temperatures persisted and it is no longer possible this year.”

Anchorage is usually blanketed in 60 inches of snow through March 1; at least, until last year, when a lack of snow first imperiled the race, there has always been plenty for the Iditarod’s mushers, sleds and dogs.

However, this year, only 21.9 inches of snow has fallen since Nov. 1, well below average. For the past few weeks, the city has basked in much warmer temperatures as well, which has melted the snow. Meteorologists blame a high pressure system that has parked itself over Alaska and western Canada. As a result, the skies have been clear and no precipitation has fallen.

Obviously, snow is as critical to the Iditarod as the dogs.

The Iditarod race crosses the state for 1,000 miles, through the Alaska range, down the Yukon River, and up the coast of the Bering Sea to the gold rush town of Nome. After the ceremonial start on Sunday, the real race begins Sunday afternoon, and the forecast will continue to be balmy. Temperatures will reach 43 degrees and no snow is expected.

But, there is snow on the ground for the Iditarod at least.

Back in Anchorage, snow is forecast for the Saturday kick-off of the Iditarod, but with highs stretching into the mid-30s, no one expects it to stick around. So the Alaska Railroad stepped in and agreed to fill seven freight cars with snow from Fairbanks and haul it 360 miles south.

According to the Associated Press, the train arrived Thursday and railroad workers dumped the white stuff into shadowed piles at the downtown railroad property. They hauled enough to fill a football field by three inches. It will be then be delivered to the Iditarod’s ceremonial starting route.

The shipment of snow is free; the railroad was already scheduled to head south and the company only had to link the cars.

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“They’re doing this out of the goodness of their hearts,” event organizer Jeff Barney told The Alaska Dispatch. “It’s huge for us.”

This is the second year in a row meager snow has plagued the Iditarod. Last year, the route had to be changed 600 miles because the traditional route didn’t have enough powder on the “most treacherous sections.”

The weather pattern that has ushered in warm temperatures and melted the Iditarod’s snow is probably being caused by warmer-than-usual waters over the Gulf of Alaska and northwest Pacific Ocean, meteorologists said.

The driving cause behind that warmer water is likely climate change. In the past 50 years, the state’s winter temperatures have risen 6.3 degrees and the Environmental Protection Agency has blamed global warming. Temperatures in Alaska are rising faster than those in the rest of the country.

But that won’t derail the Iditarod — at least this year. Hooley, of the Iditarod Trail Committee, promised an exciting race, despite the weather troubles.

“Race fans concentrated in downtown Anchorage will not notice any changes to the race start, as the excitement of having more than 1,000 of the most finely-tuned sled dogs in the world will, as always, make for an electric environment.”

[Photo By Troutnut/Shutterstock]