Monday, March 7, 2016

Snowless Iditorod Draws Attention to Arctic Warming

Declining snowfall and warmer temperatures threaten the Iditarod and other sled dog races in Alaska. In recent years the absence of snow and balmy temperatures have made the iconic competition challenging for mushers and organizers alike. In recent years the race has had to be rerouted to accommodate the changing climatic situation. Last year the race was moved 225 miles north, to Fairbanks from Willow. Much of the 2015 edition of the Iditorod took place against the backdrop of brown tundra rather than white snow.

This year 350 cubic yards of snow had to be shipped by train from Fairbanks and spread along a shortened route in Anchorage just to get the initial phase of the race underway. The normally 11 mile long ceremonial track was shortened to less than 5 miles.

Anchorage has experienced one of its longest snowless streaks on record in 2016. Less than half of the normal amount of snow has fallen in Anchorage since July. The National Weather Service reports that while 61 inches is the normal amount of snowfall for this time of year, only 27 inches of snow has fallen so far in Anchorage.

The Iditorod is not the only dog sled race that has been impacted by changing climes. In January, organizers were forced to cancel the Tustumena 200 due to absence of snow and an abundance of open water. Entire sections of the Yukon Quest trail were also bereft of snow in February.

The fact that races are being cancelled and Iditorod organizers are having to go to such extraordinary lengths to run the race is yet another reminder of our changing climate. Running sled dogs in the north may prove even more difficult as the planet continues to warm.

These weather related problems are drawing attention to dramatic climate changes taking place in the far north. The Arctic is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the world and winters in the region are currently 6 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than normal. This should be of concern to all of us as the Arctic is a global weather engine. 

The almost one thousand mile long race resumed on Sunday with the official start in Willow where it is colder and there was some snow. The race concludes in Nome.

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