Troopers urge Alaskans to stay off frozen rivers and lakes
As unseasonably warm temperatures give a good portion of Alaska an early jump on spring, Alaska State Troopers are urging people to stay off rivers and lakes amid an accelerated spring breakup.
The warning, issued jointly with Bethel Search and Rescue (BSAR), comes after Monday's recovery of two bodies from the Kuskokwim River after a pair of all-terrain vehicles crashed through thin ice Sunday night near Bethel. Three other men were rescued and treated for hypothermia, but Akiak residents Nelson C. Jackson, 47, and Ernest N. Demantle, 59, both lost their lives.
In response to the increased danger, troopers and BSAR issued the following statement:
AST and BSAR would like to remind everyone the rivers and lake are no longer safe to travel on with multiple open holes and weak ice everywhere. Travel conditions are no longer safe for any travel even for “experienced” travelers.
In another online dispatch on the incident, troopers wrote:
Due to thin ice conditions and warm weather it is HIGHLY recommended ALL RIVER travel come to a STOP, as it is extremely hazardous for anyone.
Similar deaths this winter include snowmachiners Van and LaVerne Pettigen, who were found dead in Big Lake in December. Mark Kasayulie died after he and his family fell through a hole in the Kuskokwim near Bethel on New Year's Eve, and missing snowmachiner Timothy Beebe was found dead in the Kanektok River near Quinhagak last week.
On Tuesday, the Alaska Climate Research Center, operated by the University of Alaska Fairbanks, said most of the state had March weather "normally expected in April." Those conditions — focused in Interior, western and northern Alaska — included record March high temperatures set at 10 of 19 stations examined by the center, including Bethel, Bettles, Delta Junction, Fairbanks, Kotzebue, Homer, McGrath, Nome, Talkeetna and Utqiagvik.
Kotzebue’s average monthly temperature was 21.9 degrees above normal, while Utqiagvik broke a March record high set in 1904.
“March was too warm,” said Martin Stuefer, Alaska’s state climatologist. “It was as if we didn’t have March this year. We had April instead.”
That sustained warmth means many rivers and lakes are no longer safe for travel or leisure. In Anchorage, many lakes have already started thawing.
As temperatures continue to rise, ice cover will grow increasingly unstable around the state. Rivers and lakes that appear safe may have hidden dangers even the most experienced people might not see. Even if temperatures drop below freezing, warming water can continue to melt river and lake ice during long spring days.
The best practice is to just avoid river and lake ice this time of year when conditions are unpredictable.
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