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Hello, spring breakup: Watch as ice grinds along the Susitna River at Talkeetna

Ah, Alaska in spring. A time when daylight increases rapidly, ushering in the fever pitch of summer, and a whole lot of snow and ice melts away.

All that thawing water can bring flooding — and, sometimes, spectacular scenes of ice-filled rivers.

That's what Anchorage resident Tara Wheatland saw this weekend while in Talkeetna with her family.

"That's a top-five Alaska moment for me," said Wheatland, who on Saturday evening captured footage of quick-moving ice moving down the Susitna River as she stood on the riverbank with her family.


An ice jam on the Susitna River between Talkeetna and Curry caused ice and water to back up for miles, said Jessica Cherry, senior hydrologist at the Alaska Pacific River Forecast Center with the National Weather Service.

"So, what you're seeing in the video is the broken-up, jumbled ice coming down the river," Cherry said.

The ice jam shut down Alaska Railroad service north of Talkeetna on Saturday morning as water swamped the tracks for a few miles and pushed train tracks 25 feet off course.

Waters rose to moderate flood levels at Gold Creek on Saturday morning, some 20 miles upriver from Curry, Cherry said.

Around 7:30 p.m. Saturday, an observer at Talkeetna's Railroad Bridge reported that the river ice had just broken, and a "large mass of ice" was heading downriver.

Wheatland was having a drink at Talkeetna's Fairview Inn when her uncle texted her that the ice was moving.

"We all abandoned our drinks and ran out, ran down the streets," Wheatland said.

When they arrived, the ice was already moving quickly. She started filming around 9:15 p.m.

"It was totally crazy," Wheatland said.

She watched as trees were swept into the current and pulled downstream. Chunks of ice went flying into the air. The river bank was eroding, dirt tumbling into the current, and the sound of massive ice chunks banging into each other was so loud that they had to shout over it.

"It was really pretty magnificent to see," Wheatland said.


Wheatland watched as the river's water level rose and fell dramatically, she said.

Cherry said that's a normal part of the breakup process, especially in years when the water backs up and then comes rushing down at once.

Wheatland said she and her family watched the ice flow for about an hour and a half.

On Sunday morning, they returned to the river to find it mostly free of ice, save for some icebergs stranded on sandbars and the occasional piece of ice floating by, Wheatland said.

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