Winter’s “50 yard line” in sight; The year without a winter?

+6.9 degrees December temps vs. average at MSP Airport

8.6″ snowfall so far this season at MSP Airport

-11.4″ vs. average snowfall to date at MSP

1″ approximate total snowfall potential next 16 days according to GFS model output

14.2″ least snowiest winter on record at MSP (1931-’32)

January 15th midpoint of “meteorological winter”

40+ degrees possible New Year’s Eve, January 5th & January 11th!

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Yes, it is probably way too early to write off winter yet in Minnesota. But the trend is unmistakable so far.

Just one year after the 4th snowiest winter on record we’re staring at a mostly brown landscape as we approach the first weeks of 2012.

The medium range forecast maps, which now run out to about January 13th, still look milder than average with mostly 30s and a couple of shots at 40 degrees. No sub zero air in sight just yet. There is a hint at a chill down after about January 13th, but the GFS model has teased this now for weeks, and continues to push it away into the future.

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GFS surface map for January 5th shows another surge of mild air into the Upper Midwest. This would bring 40s, and even another shot at more 50 degree temps north the first week of January!

Winter’s “50 yard line” is now in sight. It looks as if we’ll reach the mid point of winter this year with 1st half temps a good +6 or +7 degrees vs. average, and be among the top 10 “least snowy” winters to date.

Anything can still happen in the second half of winter, but with each passing week it is getting less likely we’ll be able to accumulate average snowfall in Minnesota this winter. At this point, temperatures would have to run about 6 degrees below average in the second half of winter just to approach “average” winter temperatures.

Arctic air growing up north; but will it get here?

There are signs of increasingly arctic air in Alaska and parts of northern Canada. Temperatures of -30 to -40 are forecast this week in Fairbanks, Alaska. Temps in the

-20s have been slipping into parts of northern Canada as well, but most of northern Canada is still above average.

Whitehorse in the Yukon Territory (in far northwest Canada) had a high of 23 degrees above zero Tuesday. That’s about 14 degrees above average.

A stronger than average jet stream has bottled cold air up near the North Pole. I talked about the so called “Arctic Oscillation” in my winter forecast this fall.

“Variables: NAO, AO & PDO

Potential effect on Minnesota winter: Negative phases of AO, NAO & PDO can cause arctic outbreaks.

Trend for 2011-’12: No definitive signal at this time


So far the AO is still strongly positive, trapping cold air way up north. There are some signs it may shift by mid-January and deliver colder air south into Minnesota and the USA. We’ll see.

So far the Chicago NWS is sticking with the positive AO trend for the rest of winter, which would mean a continued milder than average pattern overall, with potential brief outbreaks of cold and snow.

“In conclusion, until we are able to transition to a prolonged negative AO/NAO, we can expect to have near to above average temperatures and above average precipitation. It appears this will be the case for most of this winter season, as a prolonged positive AO/NAO looks to continue into January. Although uncertainty increases with the behavior of the AO/NAO later this winter season, the latest trends indicate the winter season as a whole will be marked by the positive phase. Therefore, in spite of the fact that La Nina conditions are in place again this winter, it does not appear that winter season will replicate last year’s cold and snowy winter. Instead odds favor this winter to continue to be on the warm and wetter side of average.”

Stay tuned!

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Thaw-Freeze: Nature’s Zamboni?

Check out some of the pictures I snapped Tuesday on Lake Minnetonka. Though I’m still concerned about the consistency and safety of ice on Minnesota lakes, there are plenty of people out enjoying one of the best “snow free” lake ice seasons in years.

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Our recent thaws produced liquid on the ice surface, which then refroze as colder temps moved in. This has produced a “Zamboni Effect” and there are big areas of nice smooth ice out there.

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I saw numerous skaters and a few ice boaters out there Tuesday. Enjoy the ice, but use caution!


  • Matt Brillhart

    I’m loving this prolonged stretch of mild weather. As a pedestrian and bus rider, I am not a fan of below freezing temps or snowbanks. I do take issue with your suggestion that Jan.1 is the “50 Yard Line”. Keeping the football analogy going, Jan.1 is the 35-yard line, at best. Cold temps, snowfall, and winter (calendar-wise) last through the end of March. I think of MN winters as lasting Nov.1 through Apr.1, so we are far from halfway there.

  • CK

    I do believe PH suggested 1/15 is the 50 yard line, so if meteorological winter runs Dec-Feb, 1/15 is right smack dab in the middle of it. Of course, lots of folks follow the traditional start and end dates – the winter solstice and vernal equinox – but history shows Minnesota winters can come early and stay late. Just like when my family comes over for a visit.

  • Peter

    I do not miss the subfreezing temps and snowdrifts. As a user of crutches and a wheelchair, I am enjoying the warmer temps and lack of snow. It’s much easier and safer to get around now than it was a year ago.