John Schandelmeier: Weird weather can have an upside

OutdoorsJanuary 28, 2014 

It was 4 a.m. Friday morning: "hook 'em up!" The temperature was steady at 45 degrees with a howling 60-mph wind. The rain poured down. Our handler, Trey Holladay, and I had planned a six-hour run for this morning as the final long training run for the Yukon Quest team. The team needs to run no matter what the weather. My wife, Zoya, poked her head out of the door: "you aren't really going in this, are you?" "Oh yeah..." I replied. She thinks I'm crazy. Maybe, but more likely it is just the weather that is bonkers.

Is this global warming or just a relatively normal Alaskan Chinook? The leaders reliably slog through belly-deep slush and water for hours. Wind gusts threaten to tip us over and the raindrops are needles in our face before we begin our retreat to the barn. Incredibly, the dogs still scream and lunge to continue every time we stop. The wind is now at our backs. With the relative ease in conditions, I am inclined to go with the Alaskan Chinook theory.

I recall a Christmas in the early '90s when Paxson Lake had a foot of water on the ice for almost a week. I remember a January rain at Maclaren River in 1971 that turned four feet of snow into ice. The moose and ptarmigan suffered and many didn't make it. Weather happens.

Alaska has set or tied around 20 weather records around the state during this recent Chinook. That doesn't seem unusual. The record high temperature for the month of January in Fairbanks is 62 degrees. They didn't come close to that temperature during this recent spell. The warm temperatures are not conducive to good dog training, but it is nice to be able to work without mittens.

We returned from our dog run to find several empty doghouses and most of the dog pans out in the trees. Once the dogs were fed and safely into secure housing, we retreated to the house. I made a few phone calls to find what was happening around our state. It seems that it was warm everywhere. Sled dog races were cancelled on the Kenai and in the Valley. The snow had melted in many places. In Bethel, the Kuskokwim 300 went off on ice and grass and was successful. The Yukon Quest will go as normal, but may have to make adjustments to the trail in a few places.

Folks might remember that the Iditarod had to start in Fairbanks because of a lack of snow a few years back. In spite of its effect on dog racing, the warm weather can be pretty pleasant for other recreationalists.

Delta Junction has very little snow. The sharp-tail grouse like that, and, as long as the temperatures do not drop into the minus 30s, they will have an easy time feeding for the rest of the winter. Access for the sportsman is good also.

I was on the east end of the Denali Highway for the past several days and the snowmobiling was excellent. The base is solid enough to walk on without snowshoes, with a few inches of softer snow on top in the mountains. The moose have enough overflows and low snow areas to get around on where they can reach easy feed. Virtually all of the spots that are normally windblown have snow cover. The ptarmigan will suffer if there is no new snow and the temperatures drop, but otherwise all is well.

Long-range weather info predicts the warm weather trend to hold for at least another couple of weeks. Great! I like the teens. Maybe the weather is bonkers in Alaska, but not that out-of-sync with normal. I'd rather be here than in the states where there have been some twenty-five hundred weather records broken in the last several weeks. I wonder what they think about global warming?

John Schandelmeier is a lifelong Alaskan who lives with his family near Paxson. He is a Bristol Bay commercial fisherman and two-time winner of the Yukon Quest.

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