Extreme Weather

Warm winter forces Iditarod dog sled race to move north

Jareen Imam, CNNUpdated 9th March 2015
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(CNN) — An unseasonably warm winter has left parts of Alaska's Iditarod trail without snow, exposing grass and gravel and forcing the famous dogsled race to move 225 miles north.
Opening ceremonies in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race kick off Saturday in Anchorage. When the race begins Monday, mushers will cross the starting line in Fairbanks instead of Willow, the traditional starting point.
It's the second time in the race's 43-year history that the starting point has moved from Willow to Fairbanks because of weather-related issues, an Iditarod spokesperson said. The first time was in 2003.
While cities across the northeastern United States have seen record snowfall this winter, Alaska received less snow than usual. Anchorage collected only 20 inches of snow this season, compared with a seasonal average of 60 inches.
Race organizers made the unanimous decision in February to move the race after determining that conditions were worse than last year in critical areas, and "therefore not safe enough for the upcoming race," Iditarod Chief Executive Stan Hooley said in a press release.
While snow has fallen east of the Alaska Range over the past couple of weeks, other parts of the trail did not get much or any of it, Hooley told CNN affiliate KTVA-TV in February.
The racing course spans a 1,000-mile trail across the Arctic tundra, ending in Nome. The race usually takes 10 days to finish, although Dallas Seavey finished the race in 2014 in a record time of eight days, 13 hours, four seconds, and 19 minutes.
The lack of snow could be attributed to a highly amplified jet stream that brought warm air from the Pacific to the region, said meteorologist Dave Snider with the National Weather Service in Anchorage.
"It's the same weather pattern that brought the east coast such snowy and cold weather this season. Alaska was simply on the warmer side of this weather pattern," he said.
Warm sea surface temperatures along the Alaska coastline are another reason for milder conditions, he added.