Southern winds are causing a January thaw in parts of southern and central Yukon.

Temperatures are forecast to get up to 10 or 11 C today in Whitehorse and Haines Junction.

"We have a pineapple express, where the air is originating north of Hawaii and heading towards Yukon,” says Doug Lundquist, a meteorologist with Environment Canada.

“There are some low pressure systems associated with it and that gives us the gusty winds, and that can help to surface more of that really warm air.”

'We have a pineapple express, where the air is originating north of Hawaii and heading towards Yukon'- Doug Lundquist, Environment Canada

That warm air is forecast to reach parts of the central Yukon too, with highs today in Faro and Ross River of 8 C.

The unseasonably warm temperatures are posing a challenge for both people and dogs getting ready for two upcoming endurance races in the far North.

The Yukon Quest mushing race and the Yukon Arctic Ultra run and winter bicycle race both start next month.

“It’s been a crazy winter and it’s a dangerous winter because you don’t have to get very wet to get in trouble if you’re out in the bush,” says veteran Whitehorse musher Frank Turner. “The whole idea is to stay dry.”

The Yukon Quest is a 1,000 mile dog sled race from Fairbanks, Alaska to Whitehorse. This year, 19 mushers are set to take part, starting Feb. 1.

Racers in the Yukon Arctic Ultra follows part of the same trail. In that race, contestants run, mountain-bike and cross-country ski from Whitehorse to either Braeburn (100 miles), Pelly Farm (300 miles) or Dawson City (430 miles).

Bad for the dogs, and for runners

“It’s bad for the dog teams, of course, but also for us,” says Robert Pollhammer, who organizes the Yukon Arctic Ultra. “If the footing is softer, it makes the going a lot harder.”

cbc-yukonquest2007

The Yukon Quest trail from Fairbanks, Alaska to Whitehorse, Yukon. This year, 19 mushers are set to take part, starting Feb. 1. (Courtesy of Yukon Quest)

He says the ideal temperature would be -20 C, but the race is in two weeks and in Whitehorse, the snow is melting.

Fifty-six people have signed up for the race this year and Pollhammer says the warm weather will present an extra challenge.

“They sweat during the day, then at night it gets colder, so these ups and downs are not that easy.”

Heavy snowfall has already wreaked havoc for people traveling in the Yukon bush. Last week, one trapper told the CBC he’d have to call it quits for the season citing dangerous trail conditions.

Turner, the musher, says he worries about bodies of water that have been covered by deep snow. That snow can act like insulation and keep the water from freezing.

“That trail that we’ve been using was exposed to the cold air,” Turner says, “and that’s still hard. But you step a couple of inches off that trail and then you’re into water.”

Turner also says dogs run slower in the soft and slushy conditions.

This time last year many parts of the territory were also reaching record highs and races proceeded as usual.

And both the Yukon Quest and the Yukon Arctic Ultra are set to proceed this year.