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Tue Apr 16, 2019, 07:18 AM

Record Early Breakups For Multiple AK Rivers; 4 Fatalities In March Under May-Like Ice Conditions

n the interior Alaska city of Nenana, ice on the Tanana River gave way just after midnight on Sunday. It was by far the earliest breakup in the 102-year history of the Nenana Ice Classic, an iconic Alaska betting pool in which participants predict when thaw will sink a wooden tripod placed on the ice. The previous earliest breakup of the Tanana, a tributary of the Yukon River, was April 20, a mark reached in 1998 and 1940.

Another record-early thaw happened on Friday on the Kuskokwim River at the southwestern city of Bethel. The previous earliest ice-breakup date for the Kuskokwim Ice Classic was also April 20, in 2016. The Friday ice breakup was the earliest for that part of the Kuskokwim in 92 years of records kept by the National Weather Service.

At both rivers, records show that breakup has been happening, on average, about a week earlier since the 1960s, not counting this year’s record thaws. This year’s breakups followed an extraordinarily warm Alaska winter with near-record-low ice in the Bering Sea and a record-hot March statewide.


For rural Alaskans in communities that lack outside road access, changes in river ice can have dire consequences. The rural and mostly indigenous residents use frozen rivers for travel, driving snowmobiles or other vehicles over them. “If we’re not able to travel on the river, we’re all 100 percent dependent on air travel, which is hugely expensive,” said Mark Leary, an official with a local Yupik tribal council. In March, when Kuskoskwim River ice conditions resembled those that used to be common in May, four people died in separate incidents when their snowmobiles or all-terrain vehicles plunged into the water.



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