Nenana Ice Classic

The Nenana Ice Classic watchtower and tripod seen in Nenana Thursday morning, April 16, 2015.

FAIRBANKS — Ice on the Tanana River, measured by Nenana Ice Classic officials, was only 16 inches thick Wednesday, the thinnest January measurement on record. 

The annual guessing game is more than 100 years old, but official ice measurements only date back to 1989. The previous record for thin ice in January — 21.5 inches — was in 2004.

January measurements typically range between 30 and 45 inches thick. 

Nenana Ice Classic Director Cherrie Forness suspects the thin ice is a result of a really mild winter. 

“The river actually froze over on schedule in late October, but it’s just been so warm,” she said. 

The Nenana Ice Classic, Alaska’s longest-running guessing game, takes place in the Parks Highway community of Nenana, 45 miles southwest of Fairbanks. For more than 100 years, participants have guessed the exact date and time Tanana River ice will break up, with a jackpot often in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

To determine the winning a time, a black-and-white tripod is erected on the ice in early March. The tripod is connected to a clock, and when the ice travels 100 feet downriver, the clock stops. 

Rivers throughout Interior Alaska are experiencing thin ice. On Friday, Mike Foot, of Fairbanks, was reportedly walking on the Chena River near his snowmachine when he broke through, after which he drove to the nearest building he could find. 

Fairbanks Police Department Sgt. Rick Sweet warned residents of thin ice. “Even with that week of 40 below, we haven’t seen the ice thick enough that would allow heavier use,” Sweet told the News-Miner. 

Tickets for the Ice Classic go on sale Feb. 1.  

Contact staff writer Robin Wood at 459-7510. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMcity.