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Balmy Alaska A Bit Low On Snow

You might expect January in Alaska to be frightfully frigid. But this year, in some parts, you barely even need a coat outside.

South-central Alaska is so warm, an annual winter dog weight-pulling contest in Anchorage has been canceled because there's not enough snow. Kenai Peninsula roads have taken a beating with constant freezing and thawing.

Winters in the state can vary wildly, as any old-timer knows. But weather records dating back to 1917 show that most months of January have some kind of warming episode, said Bob Hopkins, chief meteorologist with the Anchorage office of the National Weather Service.

"It would be more unusual if we didn't have a couple of 40-degree days," Hopkins said. "Generally, those days are windy, mucky, slippery and just plain lousy."

The towns of Homer and Palmer had high temperatures of 46 degrees Tuesday, and it reached 43 degrees in Anchorage. But it was expected to cool down Wednesday, with a high of 37.

Some years the mild spells are more pronounced than others, especially winters like this one that are toyed with by El Nino, a phenomenon caused by disruptions in the Pacific Ocean's temperature.

So folks in Alaska, particularly in the southern end, might be trudging through slushy puddles while elsewhere people are bundled up in mittens and parkas.

Pat Anderson wishes Anchorage snow would stick. Anderson, an executive with Spenard Builders Supply, had to cancel an annual dog weight-pulling contest the company has sponsored for 17 years. The event, which had been scheduled for Saturday, features dogs competing by pulling heavy loads on sleds.

"It's become such a tradition," Anderson said. "But safety is an important thing for the dogs and we don't have enough of a snow and ice pack. That's what makes the loads go into a slide - and we're just down to gravel. Hopefully, it will be held again next year."

The contest also was scrubbed in 2002, a year of little snow. An unusually warm winter that year also forced organizers of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race to change the traditional route and move the start north to Fairbanks.

It's too early to worry about weather woes in this year's race, Iditarod executive director Stan Hooley said from headquarters in soggy Wasilla. Besides, farther north, mushers were enjoying the bounty of snow.

"Today it certainly doesn't look good here but my calendar tells me there are 59 days before this thing takes place," he said. "We all know things in Alaska can change dramatically in 24 hours."

By Rachel D'Oro

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