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Snow shortfall in Anchorage sends Iditarod officials scrambling

A snow shortage in Alaska prompted the organizers of the famous dog sled race to bring in snow from Fairbanks to Anchorage.

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The Alaska Railroad on Thursday shipped seven cars of snow 360 miles from Fairbanks to Anchorage to make sure there's enough snow on the city streets and trails for the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday.

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Anchorage’s snow shortage has forced the organizers of the Iditarod sled dog race to bring in snow in advance of the event’s start on Saturday.

Above-freezing temperatures have been to blame for the lack of snow in Anchorage. Only 1.8 inches of snow fell throughout the entirety of February on the city, and all of that fell on February 21st. Those warm days not only melted much of the snow in Anchorage, they also melted stockpiles the city had set aside for the start of the race. While other years have had remarkably low snow levels, this is the first time snow had to be sent in to supplement the local supply. The ceremonial start of the race through Anchorage was also shortened, from 11 miles to three, due to the lack of snow, according to the Iditarod Trail Committee.

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The Alaska Railroad transported the snow some 350 miles southward from Fairbanks. The special delivery arrived on Thursday in seven freight cars carrying enough fresh, clean snow to blanket a football field by two to three inches. To keep the snow supply from melting before the start of the race this weekend, railroad workers pushed it into piles in a shadow-covered section of railroad property. It will then be spread around the start route.

"It's makeup snow to kind of make it look prettier," festival executive director Jeff Barney told The Associated Press.

Fortunately, all that snow was free for the Iditarod’s organizers. The railroad simply linked up the cars that had snow in them to its freight train that was already running south, at no charge.

Sullivan said that it was important to contribute to making sure the Iditarod continues. "The ceremonial start of the Iditarod is a big part of what makes Anchorage Anchorage – and a big part of Anchorage's personality," he told AP.

The Iditarod, which was first organized to preserve Alaska’s sled dog culture and the historic Iditarod Trail, covers 1,000 miles of brutal and beautiful Alaskan wilderness, including the coast of the Bering Sea. Eighty-five mushers signed up for this year’s race, and must have at least six dogs in order to finish. The trail will go north this year because it is an even year, but will switch and go south next year, in keeping with the Iditarod’s even-odd route organization.

This report contains material from The Associated Press.