The annual Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race kicked off this weekend, and Alaska usually offers the perfect setting. This year however, temperatures have been well above freezing and snowfall is unseasonably low. In order to prevent an obvious disaster, snow has been trucked in for the event and the route has been changed.
Huskies may look like cute fur balls, but these sled dogs work with highly qualified trainers all year long to run a race of this caliber. It takes constant conditioning for these dogs to be prepared for the hard work, determination, and skill that it takes to run a race like the Iditarod.
The race route varies from year to year, but it always begins in Anchorage and ends in Nome. This year, temperatures, even at night, have been well above normal and are causing unseasonably poor conditions for the famous event. On top of all of this, rain fell in Anchorage over the weekend causing the last of the snow to melt.
The opening ceremonies, which normally take place in Willow, had to be moved North to Fairbanks this year. This is only the second time this has happened in the races 43-year history; the first was in 2003.
The diversion was needed to avoid areas of open water that could be life-threatening to the teams. Canine first-aid is performed on site by team driver's, but any other help may be miles away.
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The reason for this severe change in the weather is the development of what is known as an anticyclone, which is a massive dome of warm air, that is currently situated over the entire West Coast of the United States. The anticyclone is pushing warm air up into Alaska causing warmer temperatures and rain to fall instead of snow.
Anchorage usually sees an average of about 60 inches of snow per year, and this year they have only collected 20. Dave Snider, a meteorologist from the National Weather Service, said:
“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.”