This is the time of year when you find people looking at the river and wondering – when?
There are different “whens”, of course.
I happened across some gentlemen at a table just past the Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre a day or so ago. It was a beautiful afternoon and one could almost see the snow evaporating and melting.
I wondered aloud if they were waiting for the river to break up, or for one of the vehicles still crossing the ice bridge to fall through.
They gave me a decidedly impish nod and grin.
A few days later I noted a dozen or so vehicles parked on the Dawson side of the river, an indication that their owners had taken to walking the span – a wise decision, given the slushy looking conditions along the shore.
As I write this, members of the IODE (who do not like to be called the Imperial Daughters of the Empire any longer) are busy selling Ice Pool tickets, a tradition here since 1896.
They have a chart that shows all the times and dates. You use or ignore that information and pick the minute and day you think the ice will break, buy a ticket and write your chosen time on it.
Besides bragging rights, the person who guesses closest to the time the river breaks will divide the betting pool with IODE.
The easiest chart to look at can be found on Mammoth Mapping’s websitewww.yukonriverbreakup.com. It’s a sortable chart, showing dates from earliest (April 28, 1940) to latest (May 28, 1964), or by year, or time of day.
Mammoth has also provided panorama photos of the event since 2009. You can compare shots of how the rivers (Yukon and Klondike) looked at various times from the third week in April on to several days past the actual break-up date.
It’s been awhile since break-ups were more than a flush here in terms of iceberg action. Despite the damage done to Eagle, Alaska, Dawson’s 2009 break-up did little besides flattening the willows on the far side of the dike – they had needed trimming for some time.
The leftover bergs seem to be a little smaller every year. The last good-sized ones I recall were stranded on the gravel bars on May 4, 2004 after the break-up at 12:06 am.
Always on the lookout for events for my English classes to describe, write poems about or report on, I took my Grade 10s walking by the shore that afternoon, along with notebooks, pencils and my digital camera.
There were washed-up ice slabs half the surface area of my classroom and about as thick as my tallest student was tall. My students had a great time clambering around on them, and produced some interesting writing back in the classroom later.
Since then, the icy leftovers haven’t been nearly so impressive.
A few years back local engineer Stephen Johnson plugged all the breakup data into an Excel spreadsheet and asked it to make a chart. The scatter plots don’t make a straight line, but do show a trend towards earlier break-up dates over the years since 1896.
Currently the big day is likely to be in late April or early May. Last year the equation predicted May 6, but we got April 30.
If the chart works this year, you’ll be reading this the day the ice goes out. The prediction is for May 5. But, as we all know, predicting long-range weather events is even harder than calling the outcome of a federal election.