Winter has been so warm in Alaska's largest city that seven trainloads of snow are being hauled in, so that the state's iconic dog sled race can have its annual ceremonial start this weekend.
The Iditarod, a roughly 1,000-mile sled dog race to Nome that dubs itself the Last Great Race, honors an historic mail and supply route from Alaska's gold rush days in the early 20th century. The race begins in the town of Willow on Sunday; but the day beforehand, as is the case every year, it kicks off with a ceremonial start in Anchorage.
There's just one problem. Anchorage has no snow.
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As Eric Holthaus notes at Slate, since Nov. 1, Alaska has experienced "80 days with temperatures well above normal, compared with only seven days with much cooler than normal weather. That continues a theme of much warmer weather that's held firm for about three years now. As of mid-February, much of the state had less than 10 percent of the typical amount of snowfall." Since receiving nearly 14 inches of snow in November,Anchorage has received only 7.9 inches of snow since Dec. 1. A normal seasonal total through March 1 is around 60 inches. On Feb. 29, the largest city in the state was officially snow-free.
Coming to the rescue: Alaska's second largest city, Fairbanks, located to the north, from which the Alaska Railroad transported 300 to 350 cubic yards of snow, about seven side-dump railroad cars worth, which arrived in downtown Anchorage on Thursday.
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It's a good guess that Fairbanks residents - who by and large consider themselves much more hardy and genuinely Alaskan than their more temperate and citified neighbors to the south - are just loving their role in this.
Except for the early sections, and a stretch of the Yukon River that has not frozen, conditions for much of the route reportedly appear better than the last couple of years. Even with the imported snow, however, the ceremonial start has been shortened from 11 miles to 3.