Alaska's most popular sporting event, the Iditarod Sled Dog Race is set to begin March 1, 2014. However, due to the milder-than-normal weather that has depleted snowpack this winter this winter, mushers may encounter some setbacks.
Kicking off the race, the annual ceremonial start will take place in downtown Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014. The actual start to the competition will be on Sunday afternoon, March 2, 2014, in Willow, despite recent discussions.
Due to the lack of snowcover thus far this winter, race organizers considered moving the race start from Willow to Fairbanks, according to an Alaska Public Media article. However, a construction company offered to help fix the trail with specialized equipment, and as a result, the race will stick to its traditional route through the Rainy Pass of the Alaska Range.
"It's been a very unusual winter up across Alaska," AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Jack Boston said. "The problem has been frequent mild days, which have been knocking down the snowcover."
In January, Anchorage's average temperature was 12 F above normal, causing the city's snowcover to melt. Farther northwest in Nome, the temperature soared to a record-breaking high on Jan. 27, 2014, hitting 50 F for the first time ever during the winter season. Nome's average temperature for January was 16 F above normal.
Despite the region's massive winter warmup, many areas along the path of the race have received near-normal snowfall. So far this winter, Anchorage has received 53.7 inches of snow, or 90 percent of the normal snowfall, while Nome has accumulated 53.9 inches, or 96 percent of the normal snowfall.
As nearly 70 mushers get ready to make the 1,000-mile, multiple-day journey from Willow to Nome, the weather does not seem like it is going to cooperate this year but not because of its normal severity. Typically, the troublesome weather conditions that the race faces include winter storms, blizzards, high winds and subzero temperatures.
"It looks like a mild start to the Iditarod," AccuWeather Long-Range Forecast Meteorologist Jason Nicholls said. "It looks like there can be a little snow on the ground around March 5, 2014, but it should not amount to much more than a few inches."
Heading into the second weekend of the race, a spell of colder weather is possible, according to Nicholls. This may bring about a three-day stretch where temperatures are colder than normal.
However, soon after, milder-than-normal weather will return during the week of the March 10, 2014, and hold through end of the race.
"Overall, temperatures during the time period of the Iditarod will average above normal," Nicholls said. "Snowfall will also likely average below normal, and the chances of a major storm look to remain low."