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ANCHORAGE - Typically by February, Alaskans are hoping for a reprieve from winter's cold and snow.
But this year, they're seeing a heat wave. Unseasonably warm weather has blanketed the state all week, marking a spike in a winter of above-average temperatures. Patches of brown grass poke through thinning snowdrifts and trees are bare of snow.
"We call it the Pineapple Express," said John Stepetin, a specialist at the National Weather Service's Anchorage office. "It's a pretty big low-pressure system bringing up all the warm air from Hawaii and it's going all the way up past Fairbanks."
According to the service's Web site, Anchorage temperatures have been above 30 degrees Fahrenheit for nine straight days and rose above the city's average high on 26 of the last 28 days. This week, temperatures inched into the 40s in southern areas of the state and the 30s farther north.
The warm weather has caused rapid melting, rainstorms, wind and travel advisories, highway closures, avalanche warnings, power outages and general disarray. Mudslides and high winds suspended all mountain activity in the ski-resort town of Girdwood near Anchorage. Schools closed early one day this week in Fairbanks after rains caused slick roads. Wind gusts pushed an on-duty ambulance off the road in Cooper Landing.
And on Wednesday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration warned of deteriorating ice conditions that could make lakes and rivers unsafe for travel.
There are some benefits. The Palmer Golf Course opened for play on Wednesday and the course's head pro, Jeff Barnhart, welcomed a dozen golfers to the course by noon.
"The only snow left is what we've plowed into piles in the parking lot," Barnhart said.
While some are offering thanks to Mother Nature for her warm relief, those who love to play in the snow and the retailers who supply them are not at all pleased.
Ken Ford, president of Alaska Sled Dog and Racing Association, said the racing season's been a struggle because of the lack of snow as well as slick and sloppy trails. Cancellation of the upcoming Fur Rendezvous World Championships is a definite possibility.
"This is about as bad as it can get," said Ford.