In the earliest breakup since the contest began in 1917, the Nenana Ice Classic Tripod fell early this morning.

The tripod moved downstream enough to stop the clock at 1:21 a.m. ADT, but since the Ice Classic traditionally uses Alaska Standard Time, the winning ticket time is 12:21 a.m. AST, according to Ice Classic officials.

The contest, which started as a wager between railroad workers putting in the line between Anchorage and Fairbanks in 1917, is heralded as a sign of spring and the imminent beginning of navigation on Interior Alaska rivers. Starting in February, people can buy a ticket for $2.50 and try to guess the exact time — to the minute — the tripod starts to move downstream on the Tanana River, tripping a clock set up on shore.

In the past 102 years, the earliest the tripod has gone out was April 20, which has happened twice. The latest is May 20. This year’s record early breakup comes on the heels of an unusually warm March in Interior Alaska.

The ice on the Kuskokwim River went out Friday, the earliest date on record after record-high temperatures in February and March, said Rick Thoman, a climate specialist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks' Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy. Residents in the mostly roadless southwest region of Alaska rely on the river for transportation, but thin ice has plagued the region — four people have died after falling through the ice on the river this spring.

Thoman (@AlaskaWx) tweeted that March 2019 for Alaska statewide was by far the warmest on record, 3.7F warmer than in 1965, the previous warmest. Three of the past four years are among the 10 warmest.

The prize money, accumulated from a portion of the ticket sales, goes to the person or group of people who correctly guesses the time the ice will breaks, according to Nenana Ice Classic manager Cherrie Forness.

“If nobody guesses the exact minute, then we go to the closest minute on either side of the exact minute,” she said.

If there is more than one winner, the jackpot will be split evenly among winners. However, there will be no word on the jackpot amount until all the tickets are rounded up and properly sorted.

Sorting of the tickets was set to begin April 10. Data entry will be April 17, when people work in shifts to enter guesses. From there, Forness said, entries will be checked for accuracy multiple times to ensure no errors occurred.

Contact staff writers Julie Stricker at 459-7532 and Kyrie Long at 459-7572.