Warm winter, cold summer hit Northwest Arctic Borough

Posted: Wednesday, January 03, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Kotzebue's unusually warm weather is raising concerns that the haul road the Northwest Arctic Borough normally builds each winter won't be completed.

Borough Mayor Ross Schaeffer said the ice required for the road remains thin.

''Usually we make an ice road up to Noorvik,'' Schaeffer told Alaska Newspapers Inc. ''Probably this year there won't be one.''

Schaeffer said in winter, when the tundra freezes and the snow comes, the country is wide open for traveling by snowmachine. It's the easiest time to get around, but they need about 38 inches of ice as a base for the haul road.

''We've had more snow earlier this year than other years, but it hasn't gotten down to 30 below yet,'' Schaeffer said.

The borough usually receives state funding to build the ice road so that villages can haul in fuel and other supplies. Without the haul road, contractors working in the remote communities can expect to pay nearly a dollar more per gallon for diesel, which they'll have to fly in from Kotzebue.

Even though December's been warm, Schaeffer said, the traveling is still good by snowmachine over borough trails from Kotzebue to Noorvik, Selawik and Ambler.

The warmer weather has not harmed ice fishing, Schaeffer said. People are near Noatak for sheefish and whitefish and near Kivalina, for trout, said Schaeffer.

Mike Kutz of the National Weather Service said most of the month was been considerably warmer than average in the region. For three days, Dec. 11-13, temperatures were 24 to 29 degrees above the normal average temperature, he said.

The lowest monthly temperature ever recorded for December was set on Dec. 13 in 1935 at 49 degrees below zero.

The temperature on December 20 matched the record high of 36 degrees, originally set in 1970. The average high temperature is 5 degrees above zero.

The warm winter weather is in contrast to the area's cold summer temperatures, Schaeffer said.

''I've lived up here all my life. We had probably the coldest summer we've ever had,'' Schaeffer said.

During his mayoral campaign he asked elders across the borough if they had ever experienced such a cool summer. None had, he said.

''No one could remember a time when it froze in summer, and the berries didn't grow,'' Schaeffer said.

Schaeffer said the one benefit to the cold summer was that the caribou didn't have as many mosquitoes to contend with. They didn't have to run to escape the bugs as much, and consequently, he said, they're healthy this winter.

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