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Bitter cold moves in to Interior

Temperatures could drop to 50 below zero in parts of Alaska

Posted: Tuesday, December 30, 2008

FAIRBANKS - Bitterly cold weather slid over from Canada and settled into Interior Alaska with forecasters saying temperatures could continue to slide to nearly 50 degrees below zero in coming days.

Over the weekend, the mercury at Fairbanks International Airport dropped to 39 degrees below zero. Areas in the Interior outside the city were even colder; 46 below on the Yukon Flats, 41 below in Fort Yukon and 44 below in Central, according to the weather service.

Rick Thoman, lead forecaster at the National Weather Service office in Fairbanks, said temperatures rose a few degrees on Sunday, but that was it.

"The temperature will probably continue to go up and down randomly," he said. "With no clouds and no wind on the valley floor, temperatures are pretty much probably going to be stuck."

Fairbanks had experienced a relatively mild winter prior to Christmas. It had only dropped to 30 below once, in early December.

The howling winds and frigid weather were too much for several mushers, including four-time Iditarod winner Jeff King and his dog team, who pulled out of the Gin Gin 200, a 200-mile race along the Denali Highway.

For the men, Brent Sass came in first, ahead of more well-known mushers such as four-time Yukon Quest and two-time Iditarod champion Lance Mackey who was fourth.

Mackey, resting Monday at the lodge in Paxson, said it was blowing so hard and the teams were getting so turned around by the wind that it almost made him laugh.

"It was almost comical. Your sled was going sideways down the road," he said.

Further down the trail, when temperatures dipped to 50 below, it wasn't so much fun, he said.

"There were a lot of people not wanting to put their teams through that," Mackey said. "It is all about the dogs in a situation like this... They get hardened by this stuff. That is why we do it."

For the women, defending champion Jodi Bailey of Chatanika came in first.

Several mushers pulled out of the race from Paxson to the MacLaren River Lodge.

"It was a real challenge this year," Bailey wrote on a friend's Facebook page. "Winds like a banshee, and killer cold, wow am I glad to be back in Paxson!!!"

According to the race Web site, temperatures at the MacLaren River Lodge were between 35 and 40 below. It was reportedly 10 to 15 degrees colder on the lower portions of the trail during the second portion of the race.

In Southeast Alaska, at least 20 inches of snow fell in Ketchikan, forcing the shut down of the Ketchikan International Airport for a few hours. The airport shut down at about 1:30 p.m. Sunday due to the heavy snow.

"We'll stay here all night and dig out," airport manager Mike Carney said.

The airport reopened Monday and normal operations resumed.



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