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It's So Warm in Alaska Snow Has to Be Brought in by Train for Iditarod
This winter has been shockingly warm in the Arctic, producing one of the mildest winters on record for Alaska.
According to the National Centers for Environmental Information, Alaska’s temperatures this winter have averaged about 10 degrees above normal, ranking third warmest since at least 1925. And snowfall has been 10 percent of normal in central, interior and southeast Alaska.
It's the second year in a row that Alaska has seen record warmth, with the winter of 2014-2015 clocking temperatures 4 to 10 degrees above normal.
"This year’s strong El Nino event, and the associated warmth of the Pacific Ocean, is likely partly to blame, along with the cyclical Pacific Decadal Oscillation—which is in its warm phase," explained The Washington Post. "The warmth is also occurring against a backdrop of record low Arctic sea ice and a long-term trend towards higher temperatures, due to the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere."
For the second month in a row, Arctic sea ice was at a record low level for its average extent. And Alaska has already seen its second wildfire of the year, putting the state's wildfire season weeks earlier than normal and sparking fears of yet another brutal summer.
“For me, I always would think an early season was when we started getting [fires] in mid-April,” Norm McDonald, a state fire management officer, told Alaska Dispatch News. “And then over the last few years that’s changed to mid-March and now the end of February.”
All this is wreaking havoc on Alaska's wintertime activities, such as the famed Iditarod, which begins this Saturday. For the second year in a row, snow has to be brought into Anchorage for the ceremonial start of the race. Last year, it was trucked in. This year, it has to be brought by rail.
Some 300 cubic yards (seven railcars' worth) of snow is being transported by train from Fairbanks, an Alaska Railroad spokesperson told Alaska Dispatch News. Iditarod officials also announced that they will shorten the ceremonial start from 11 miles to three due to the lack of snow.
Last year, officials had to reroute the Iditarod twice because of minimal snow coverage on certain parts of the trail. The year before that, low snow produced dangerous trail conditions that resulted in injuries that knocked some mushers out of the race.
The imported snow will also be used for a lesser known event, the Running of the Reindeer, in which people race reindeer through the streets of Anchorage.
Here's footage of an "antler cam" strapped onto one of the participating reindeers:
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A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.
"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."
The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.
My god, White Island volcano in New Zealand erupted today for first time since 2001. My family and I had gotten off it 20 minutes before, were waiting at our boat about to leave when we saw it. Boat ride home tending to people our boat rescued was indescribable. #whiteisland pic.twitter.com/QJwWi12Tvt— Michael Schade (@sch) December 9, 2019
Michael Schade / Twitter
At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.
The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.
Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.
"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."
Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.
Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.
"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.
"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."
The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.
Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.
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