Weather & Natural Disasters

Scarce snow complicates Alaskan dog sled race

The Chugach Mountains and the building of downtown Anchorage, Alaska, are reflected in the still waters of Cook Inlet.
Mark Thiessen | AP

Another low-snow year in Alaska is plaguing the world's most famous sled dog race.

Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race organizers are so worried about the logistics that they're working with Alaska Railroad to deliver seven rail cars worth of snow to Anchorage, the state's largest city, ahead of the starting ceremony on March 5, according to Alaska Dispatch News.

Even so, the 300 cubic yards of snow may not keep organizers from having to shorten or reschedule parts of the race, according to the report.

A lack of snow last year north of Anchorage forced organizers to move the start of the race to Fairbanks from its traditional starting point in Willow, about 75 miles north of Anchorage.

The conditions in Willow are much improved this year, but the problem is in Anchorage, where the snowfall in the city for the past two years has equaled only about two-thirds of a normal year.

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Cook Inlet stretches 180 miles from the Gulf of Alaska to Anchorage in south-central Alaska. The Cook Inlet basin contains large oil and gas deposits, including several offshore fields.
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"It's no secret that warm temperatures for days on end have further eroded what little snow cover existed on the trail system here in Anchorage," Stan Hooley, Iditarod CEO, told Alaska Dispatch News. "We are exploring our options at this time as we very well may need to shorten our Day 1 Ceremonial Start."

The Iditarod always begins with a ceremonial, fan-friendly slow jaunt along the streets and trails of Anchorage a day before the start of the competitive portion of the nearly 1,000-mile race.

During the ceremony, fans across the world participate in an auction and the highest bidders — called Iditariders — get to ride with mushers on the Anchorage course. In the past few years, the auction has brought in more than $200,000 for the race.

Alaska isn't the only state suffering from low snowfall. California's statewide snowpack is only 83 percent of the March 1 average, a result of moderate precipitation and warm temperatures since October, according to California Department of Water Resources.

"Mother Nature is not living up to predictions by some that a 'Godzilla' El Niño would produce much more precipitation than usual this winter," Mark Cowin, director of the department, said in a statement. "We need conservation as much as ever."

—CNBC's Sarah Whitten and Jeff Daniels contributed to this report.