What does thinner ice on the Tanana River compared to last year mean for the Nenana Ice Classic?

Published: Mar. 18, 2022 at 7:23 PM AKDT|Updated: Mar. 29, 2022 at 6:28 AM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - As Alaskans look forward to spring, it’s time to start thinking about one of Alaska’s favorite contests: the Nenana Ice Classic.

Before we get too far into this, for those new to Alaska, the Nenana Ice Classic dates back to 1917 and has nothing to do with hockey. There are similarities: icing, anticipation, excitement, and a goal of winning. This year’s guessing of when the tripod drops on the Tanana River might be a slapshot.

This time last year saw an unusually thick amount of ice, but it’s much different this year. Surprising?

“Actually no, because we have a lot of snow which insulates the ice, and that keeps it from getting really thick,” said Cherrie Forness, manager of the Ice Classic.

To get a more “official” ruling, Meteorologist Joe Bartosik went to Alaska climate expert Rick Thoman, and he agrees.

“Although it’s probably not the entire story, a large part of it has to be the heavy snow that fell in December,” he said. “Really excessive snow, as well as rain. But under 3 feet of snow, that’s a great insulator, and so that undoubtedly has a lot to do why the ice is so much thinner.”

The measurement this year is the second-lowest taken during this same week over the past 10 years. The lowest occurred in 2019 and coincidentally, that’s the year the tripod tipped over the earliest in the contest’s 105-year history, on April 14 at 12:21 am. Even so, Forness says not to bet on an early drop of the tripod, just yet.

“The ice will continue to get thicker. It’s not going to start thinning out for a while,” she said. “And we have, you know, another week and a half or so of cooler temperatures, you know. And it will still remain being cool in the evenings, even into April.”

And history supports a mid-spring break up. On average, the tripod has dropped the most between April 29 and May 8. But given what we know already, are there any early projections?

“You know, it’s too early to tell any of that, and it’s hard to say because we did have such a strange winter,” Forness said.

Bottom line, it’s still anybody’s game, as there remain a lot of moving players. Last year’s jackpot was $233,591 and tickets are sold throughout the state through April 5. Each guess costs $2.50, so there’s still two and a half weeks to place bets.

Correction: This article has been updated to correct the fact that the jackpot of $233,591 was for last year, not this year.

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