Record-breaking warm, snowless winter confuses Midwesters


Lucy Wallace, newly arrived from San Diego, had been warned about the freezing winters in her new hometown, Minneapolis. She bought a $900 winter coat, two pairs of boots and metal spikes so her running shoes could be worn on icy sidewalks.

So she was both bewildered and relieved by the record-breaking warm temperatures that ushered in a rare snowless winter holiday week across much of the upper Midwest.

“I spent hundreds of dollars on a new wardrobe and on winter clothes that until now haven't been worn at all,” said Wallace, 35, who ran five miles on Christmas Day in a T-shirt. “Here I am wearing my San Diego wardrobe in December in Minneapolis.”

A high of 54 degrees made this Christmas day the warmest on record in the Minneapolis area, according to the National Weather Service. Across much of the region, people faced a series of days leading up to the new year that felt like a mild autumn. Ice fishing was particularly dangerous on lakes covered by thin layers of ice.

And a trick to organize large Christmas gatherings was foiled. “Thinking of all the Minnesota families who rely on using their porch as an extra freezer during the holidays when it's almost 50 degrees outside,” Peggy Flanagan, Minnesota's lieutenant governor, wrote in Threads.

It's not unprecedented to have a warm or snowless Christmas in Minnesota. But such days are likely to become increasingly common due to climate change, said Jessica Hellmann, director of the Environment Institute at the University of Minnesota.

“It's a big cultural shift to experience 50 yesterday and how disorienting it is from a geographic perspective,” Dr. Hellmann said in an interview Tuesday. “It's a visceral sense of what climate change looks and feels like for people who are used to living in a particular climate.”

In northern Minnesota, emergency personnel have warned people to stay away from lakes, which are covered in an unusually thin layer of ice.

Last week, a Cessna plane that landed on Upper Red Lake broke through the ice, according to Beltrami County Sheriff Jason Riggs.

“Upon landing, the absence of snow made it difficult for the plane to slow down,” he said in a statement. “Eventually, the plane slid into an area of ​​thin ice and the nose of the plane broke through into open water.”

The plane's two occupants, who had flown from Michigan for a day of ice fishing, were rescued.

In nearby Becker County, a 67-year-old man was found dead Saturday after his all-terrain vehicle split through thin ice, according to the Becker County Sheriff's Office.

Ted Bonde, president of the Wisconsin Interscholastic Fishing Association, said ice fishing competitions in much of the state had been delayed by at least a week as winter anglers waited impatiently for the cold weather to arrive.

“I know that nature is doing this and that at some point it will change; It’s just a matter of time,” Bonde said, adding: “Once it happens, there will be a mad rush to get out.”

Bonde, who coaches the high school fishing team in Kiel, Wis., about 45 miles south of Green Bay, said there was three inches of ice — enough to walk on — in his area on Dec. 10. No more.

“It's all over,” he said. “Everyone is taking their boats back to where there used to be ice.”

Milwaukee, which has recorded seven days above 50 degrees so far this month, is on track to have its warmest December and its warmest year on record, according to Cameron Miller, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Milwaukee.

On Christmas Day, the high temperature was 52 degrees, well above the average high of 34, and it only dropped overnight to 48, the warmest low temperature on record for that date, Miller said.

With “just a trace” of snow this month, it hasn't been an ideal season for winter sports. “I'm an avid cross-country skier and this kind of weather is terrible for someone like me,” Miller said.

Jacob Frey, mayor of Minneapolis, said he enjoyed taking his daughter to the playground in late December, a month later than in previous years. An avid runner, he has appreciated the absence of snow and ice on trails and sidewalks. But there is something deeply disturbing about its first snowless Christmas in Minneapolis, said Frey, who has made fighting climate change a priority.

“Any enjoyment of the heat is overshadowed by concern about what's happening,” Frey said. “It's a very disturbing and disconcerting kind of enjoyment because it makes you wonder what's to come.”

The unusual heat was expected to move east on Tuesday and Wednesday, with high temperatures rising 10 to 20 degrees above normal from the upper Midwest across the Great Lakes, according to the National Weather Service. Mild temperatures were also forecast along the East Coast, with highs in the 50s in the Mid-Atlantic and temperatures in the 60s in the Carolinas.

Scientists say it's difficult to attribute a single anomalous weather event to climate change. But there's no doubt that American winters have become milder in recent years.

Also among the victims of this year's warm winter is the Minnesota Ice Festival, which features a giant ice and snow maze. It was canceled last week.

“The weather has not cooperated and we will not be able to offer the experience we hoped for,” Robbie Harrell, CEO of Minnesota Ice, said in a statement.

One advantage of this strange winter is the absence of a particular type of voter complaint that begins as early as November, Frey said.

“We're very proud of our record low snowplow complaints,” he joked. “Our plow drivers have been very fast and efficient; “They have been trying a new strategy and it is clearly working.”

John Keefe contributed with reports.

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