Iditarod meltdown

Iditarod Trail Invitational cyclists Heather Best sweating it out on the Iditarod Trail in 40-degree temperaturees in February 2016/Craig Medred photo

Tank-topped Iditarod Trail Invitational cyclist Heather Best sweating it out in the Alaska Interior in 40-degree temperatures at the start of March 2016/Craig Medred photo


AP pushes wild Alaska global warming claim

The difference between journalism today and that of a decade or two back was pretty well writ by the once-reserved Associated Press on Thursday with a report of 80-degree temperatures along the Iditarod Trail.

This was fake news carefully packaged so as to be defensible as otherwise based on the “well, he said it defense” that has become the norm among the click-bait crowd. And musher Jason Mackey did, in all likelihood, say what the AP reported he said.

That being that “a thermometer hanging from the back of his sled hit 80 degrees Fahrenheit (26.67 degrees C) at one point this week as he camped alongside the trail while mushers neared the halfway mark of the race.”

Whether Mackey actually witnessed this or was messing with AP reporter Mark Thiessen is impossible to know.

Pranking reporters has historically been something of an Iditarod-related sport for mushers. In the 1980s, Iditarod dog driver Don Honea from Ruby along with some other mushers convinced a now-deceased Anchorage Daily News reporter that hockey great Wayne Gretzky had been buying sled dogs in Yukon River villages with a plan to compete in the self-labeled “Last Great Race.”

The story was a hoax, but it made the news largely due to “sources” other than Honea insisting the story he was telling was true. Everyone who got pranked was more than slightly embarrassed.

That said, however, a claim like Mackey’s would not have made the news in the bad, old days for the simple reason that it is nonsense, and any reporter with half a brain would know so.

Reality versus agendas

At the peak of a warm front that pushed through Interior Alaska from March 6 to March 10, the temperature in the Interior community of McGrath near the halfway point for the Iditarod did climb to a high of 43 degrees and spent about 12 hours above freezing before dropping down to a nighttime low of 27, according to the Time and Date weather tracker. 

But 43 degrees is a long way from 80 degrees, and though temperatures in the 40s are not common in McGrath in March, they are also not unusual.

Forty-three degrees is short of the record highs for this time of the month there. The records for the days in question are, according to the data from the National Centers for Environmental Information, 47 degrees on March 7, 2013; 46 degrees on March 8, 1949; 46 degrees on March 9, 1988; and 45 degrees on March 10, 1988. 

McGrath doesn’t hit the 80s until mid-May – May 15, 1993 now holding the record for the first 80 or above day in the Kuskokwim River community. The temperature hit 82 on that date. 

The warmest April day in McGrath weather history is April 29, 2009 when the temperature reached 68 degrees. The warmest March day came on March 20, 1998 when the mercury in the thermometer rose to 55 degrees.

Suffice it to say, an 80-degree temperature anywhere near McGrath in early March would be a sign of serious global warming, which was clearly the point trying to be made by the AP, which launched what it labeled a “sweeping climate journalism initiative”  last year.

A new AP “climate desk “will leverage the expertise of AP’s global staff to infuse climate coverage in all aspects of the news report, including words, visuals, data-driven journalism and graphics reaching over three billion people each day,” the organization reported at the time.

Consider the Iditarod now well infused.

Validating misinformation

The AP did, of course, try to paper over its thermal inflation by consulting a weather expert on how a 43-degree temperature in McGrath could be transformed into 80 degrees.

“Although it’s warm, it wasn’t 80 degrees in interior Alaska, which would probably be a record high in July, said Brian Brettschneider, a climate scientist with the National Weather Service’s Alaska Region. Instead, when you leave a thermometer in the sun, it absorbs the solar energy, which is the reason official measurement thermometers are kept in the shade,” according to the AP report.

This presumes Mackey’s thermometer was hanging in the sun. The AP story said he was “camped alongside the trail,” but didn’t say whether it was night or day, let alone whether the thermometer was hanging in the sun.

For all anyone knows, he could have been camped along the trial at night with the thermometer danging too close to a hot, dog-food cooker where it might record an 80-degree temperature in ambient temperatures below freezing.

And Thiessen surely misquoted Brettscheider on the July temperatures. Every day in July and June in McGrath has a record high of 80 degrees or above. Eighty-degree temperatures are not usual in the area in the summer.

The range of record highs for July goes from 82 degrees to 88 degrees on every day, and there is only one day –  July 16 – that the top three record temperature aren’t above 80, according to the Environmental Information records.

On that day, a temperature of 80 would be in a three-way tie for the second-highest temperature for the daily record. On every other day, 80 degrees would be outside the top three.

Brettscheider certainly knows this and that the summer temperatures across the old “Inland Empire” covering the low, rolling Interior Alaskan hills between McGrath on the Kuskokwim and Ruby to the north on the Yukon River are pretty much similar and regularly hot in the summer.

The area warms up quickly beneath the long hours of bright, warm sunlight on the way to the summer solstice in late June. The McGrath record temperature dates to that part of the year. It hit  94 degrees in McGrath on June 17, 2013, according to the Environmental Information data.

And though the mercury in the thermometer does sometimes climb halfway there for a few hours per day to reach daytime temperatures of 47 degrees in March when the days are still only 11 hours long, and the long-angle sun often feels as if it has no warmth at all, there is no 80-degree, bikini bathing weather this time of year.

If there were, the Iditarod would be a dog swimming event not a sled dog race.






















4 replies »

  1. Easy to do even in the winter by placing the thermometer in direct sunlight.

    Last May, I sent a picture to friends of my thermometer reading way past 100 degrees when the air temperature was in the 70s.

  2. Jesus Craig whole article about past bullshit. How about todays news? Circling the drain…

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