Feb 25, 3:30 PM EST

Lack of snow, warm weather plague Iditarod plans

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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (AP) -- Warm weather continues to play havoc for organizers of the world's most famous sled dog race.

A lack of snow in the greater Anchorage area already has forced the official start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog race to move 225 miles north from Willow to Fairbanks.

The ceremonial start of the race is still planned March 7 in Anchorage.

The plan in Fairbanks is to have the mushers start the race March 9 on the Chena River ice at Pike's Landing. From there, mushers would travel a few miles to the confluence with the Tanana River, which will become the mushers' main route for the new few hundred miles, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported (http://is.gd/DUiOM7 ).

However, a string of days with temperatures hovering near the freezing mark has cast doubts that the Chena River ice could handle the weight of the mushers, dog teams and volunteers needed for the start.

If the warm temperatures continue, organizers will come up with a Plan B. It will keep the official start in Fairbanks, but move it to land. Competitors will mush over trails until they reach the Tanana River.

"We're not hearing good things about what the river looks like today," Iditarod Chief Executive Officer Stan Hooley said. "I don't want to divert too much attention from Plan A here, but I also don't want us to be naive about what's happening out there."

Fairbanks organizer Howie Thies is confident the Chena River will be ready for the race.

"You never can tell what's going to happen in Fairbanks ... but I think we're fine," Thies said.

Volunteers spent much of the last week flooding water on top of the existing ice to shore up thickness. But that work was temporarily stopped with temperatures near the freezing mark. Thies said the flooding technique best works when the temperature is between 0 and 10 degrees.

Thies remains optimistic the ice will be ready for the start, though organizers continue to work on the backup plan.

"I'm glad to hear Howie is a man of faith," Hooley said. "We certainly hope winter weather returns to Fairbanks.

The start of the 2003 Iditarod also was moved to Fairbanks because of a lack of snow.

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Information from: Fairbanks (Alaska) Daily News-Miner, http://www.newsminer.com

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