The Kuskokwim Ice Classic tripod tripped its clock at 4:02 p.m. on Friday, marking the official time of river breakup in Bethel. This is the earliest breakup ever, beating the former record set in 2016 by eight days. The new record follows a series of other records broken this season.
This February and March were the warmest ever recorded in the region.
The Kuskokwim ice in front of Nicolai on the upper river broke on March 31, a week and a half before the former record, set more than a decade ago on April 10, 1998.
Meanwhile, many Kuskokwim tributaries opened about three weeks earlier than usual, with open water appearing in the final days of March and first days of April. Boating began during that time in lower and middle river tributaries, including the Tuluksak, Johnson, Kwethluk, and Aniak Rivers.
Following the trend of recent years, breakup has once again turned to a mush out, moving from the lower river to the upper river. Historically, it advanced in the opposite direction, with icebergs crashing downstream in dramatic jams, flooding communities along its path. Now, the ice melts in place, quietly disappearing.
While ice in the lower and middle river is cracking, shifting, and opening, ice along much of the upper river is holding.
In a teleconference call with the National Weather Service River Watch on Friday morning, Rebecca Wilmarth in Red Devil reported that the ice is 2 feet thick in front of the community, surrounded by 2 to 3 feet of snow. Tim Zukar in Crooked Creek said that ice in front of that village ranges from 2 feet to 7 inches.
Search and rescue members warn boaters to watch for submerged black ice and to wear flotation devices. They also remind boaters that hundreds of miles of ice has yet to move downstream.