FAIRBANKS (AP) Midnight Saturday is the deadline to buy tickets for the Nenana Ice Classic, the annual betting game where contestants try to guess the exact time the ice on the Tanana River at Nenana will break up.
But despite one of the warmest winters on record, the ice on the river is thicker than usual.
Ice classic officials said the ice was 48.2 inches thick on Wednesday, the thickest measurement for that date since 1994, although last year's measurement of 48.0 inches on April 3 is about as close as it gets.
It could get thicker because it hasn't warmed up yet,'' said Ice Classic manager Cherrie Forness, referring to the cooler-than-normal temperatures of the last two weeks.
For the ice classic, a tripod is planted 2 feet into the ice and a trip wire connected to a clock on shore stops a clock when the ice moves.
Tickets cost $2.50 and Forness said she didn't know how many tickets have been sold because there are more than 200 ticket vendors around the state. Some vendors have requested more tickets, which are later counted by hand.
Last year, about 299,000 tickets were sold and six winning tickets split a jackpot of $304,000 when the ice went out 9:27 p.m. May 7.
The ice thickness has leveled off the last few weeks after growing steadily since the first measurement of 30 inches on Jan. 13. The ice has measured between 47.5 and 48.2 inches in four measurements taken since March 17.
The average ice thickness on April 1 is 42 inches. Typically, the ice thickness starts to shrink in late March or early April. The ice was almost the same thickness this time last year but it was already shrinking after peaking at 51.5 inches on March 12. It remained at 48.0 inches through April 14 and was still 42 inches thick when officials stopped measuring it on April 29.
Ice thickness at this time of year doesn't necessarily mean much. In 1994, the ice was 51 inches thick on April 3 and breakup occurred on April 29, while in 2001 the ice was 34.5 inches thick on April 2 and the ice didn't go out until May 8. In 1998, when the ice went out on April 20 to tie the earliest breakup on record, the ice measured 38.0 inches on April 3.
What I've heard people are thinking it's going to be late because of the weird winter, no snow, no runoff this spring and the cool spring,'' Forness told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.
Officials measure the ice twice a week Wednesdays and Sundays until it becomes too dangerous to do so.
The 87-year-old Ice Classic began in 1917 when engineers working on the Alaska Railroad bet $800 guessing when the river would break up and they could return to work. Since then, the Ice Classic has paid out more than $9 million in prize money.
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