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Water-Skiing in Alaska

An article from this week's issue of the Economist:

Alaska's Iditarod sled-race has not changed its 1,150-mile course in its 30-year history. This year's race will start as usual in Anchorage on March 1st. But that will only be for show: the mushers and their dogs will then be ferried to a course starting in Fairbanks, far to the north of the usual route. The reason? No snow...

In early December a few people water-skied on a lake, north of Anchorage, that is normally frozen solid. Trees have budded. Grass peeks out of patchy snow. Rather than the normal January temperatures of -30°C or colder, thermometers have lingered at 0°C or above...

To some extent, the near-tropical weather is an aberration. El Niño... is partly responsible for a frigid New York City and a slushy Anchorage. But Alaska has grown warmer in the past 20 years for other reasons too: normal climate variation plus a dollop of global warming...

In early February a classic snow-machine race, the 2,000-mile Iron Dog, was cancelled for the first time in its 20-year history. Elsewhere, small villages that rely on frozen streams for transport are stranded by flowing water. Native American villagers have had difficulty reaching winter hunting grounds that are usually approached across the ice. Snow-machine dealers have no customers. Even a few mosquitoes, normally a plague in May and June, have buzzed in...

Warm winters also strike at the Alaskan psyche, shaped in large part by brutal cold. Many Alaskans revel in the biting air and the pure white of the winter landscape, not to mention the skiing, ice-climbing and snow machine-riding. This winter Alaska seems more like Seattle: soggy and grey. According to Sue Libenson, who works for a green group near Anchorage, "Alaska without the cold just isn't any fun."

All those claiming global warming is bad science, you're assigned to stay after class, to write "They're water-skiing in Alaska in December" 100 times on the chalkboard. All others are excused to grab their water skis and hit the lake.

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