Warming conditions may stress teams on trail

A handler cares for musher and first-place finisher Ryan Anderson’s sled dogs following a previous finish of the U.P. 200. Trail conditions will likely be somewhat challenging during this weekend’s races, due to warming temperatures. (Journal file photo)

MARQUETTE — The weather forecast for the Upper Peninsula sled dog races this weekend looks beautiful for spectators, but not so much for the mushers and their teams, according to the National Weather Service in Negaunee Township.

Hydrometeorological technician Jim Salzwedel said Friday will usher in partly sunny skies with temperatures likely in the 30s to the upper 40s lasting throughout the weekend in Marquette, with temperatures nearly as high to the south and east. Fortunately, he said, it will likely get below freezing at night.

“Essentially, it’s really unseasonably warm for this weekend for this kind of event,” Salzwedel said. “Good for spectators, but maybe not so good for the dogs.”

U.P. Sled Dog Association President Ron Hewson said ideal conditions include a base foundation of melted snow and powder on top, with temperatures near zero and no wind.

Hewson said the warmup is a concern.

“We are in contact with our trail crew daily and veterinarians daily and race organizers are in contact with those folks daily, and adjustments will be made if needed,” he said.

The UPSDA board will meet tonight and consider any necessary changes as a group, he added.

“Regardless of the weather forecast, from Deerton east, we got plenty of snow, we’ll continue to have plenty of snow,” Hewson said. “It would take weeks for that snow to deteriorate.”

Ice is a concern for the dogs, as it’s hard on their feet, he said.

“But they wear booties,” Hewson added.

Highs Friday are expected to be about 37 degrees, partly cloudy and mostly clear, with lows around 28. Saturday highs will be in the upper 40s and could hit 50 in Marquette, Salzwedel said. Warm temperatures will stick around until Monday, when rain is expected, with freezing rain at night, according to the NWS.

Hewson said they’ve seen this kind of weather before, and the teams are highly adaptable. In extreme cases, race changes in the past have included shortened races and ceremonial starts downtown.

“Our ultimate concern is the dogs and the mushers and their safety,” Hewson said. “Like I said, we’re talking with vets, we’re talking with mushers, we’re talking with organizational staff, who have experience with this kind of stuff, every day.”

Mary Wardell can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248. Her email address is mwardell@miningjournal.net