It doesn’t require a long look backward to find a winter with little snow, but the last four snowy seasons may have erased it from recent memory banks.
The winter of 2006-07 followed a similar pattern to this year, where December wrapped up with brown the dominant color instead of winter white.
The snow depth in the Brainerd lakes area was zero as of Dec. 28, 2006. That brown pattern stretched across most of the state with just a few inches of snow along the northern border with Canada. By Jan. 11, 2007, there still wasn’t any snow on the ground, according to the state’s climatology records.
“It’s almost a carbon copy so far,” said Pete Boulay, DNR climatologist based in St. Paul, of this winter compared to 2006. “We’re on our way to the same thing. A lot of people forget about 2006-2007.”
During the winter of 2007, the Brainerd lakes area didn’t have a measurable snow depth until late February or early March when there was finally 12 inches on the ground by March 1. That should give snowmobiling and snowshoeing enthusiasts hope.
So what happened to the snowy and cold winter forecast? The National Weather Service reported the warm and dry winter to date is in spite of a borderline weak/moderate La Nina, which typically brings colder weather and more snow to the region like last year.
“Last winter featured the switch from an El Nino in early 2010 to La Nina by summer,” the weather service reported. “This fairly rapid switch from El Nino to La Nina caused tremendous amounts of energy to be made available to the atmosphere.”
But, the weather service reported, less energy was available by spring as the Pacific Ocean cooled. A second consecutive year with La Nina is weaker and this season’s La Nina is at a slightly different orientation related to the coldest ocean water are combining with changes in atmospheric circulation, the weather service noted.
Boulay said with a La Nina there is always an outside chance the weather pattern that develops is not what’s expected and that has happened this year. In 34 years of weather records, the state notes the Brainerd lakes area has had just one or two years, according to its percentages, of a brown Christmas.
“Every La Nina isn’t the same,” Boulay said. “This one is slightly different. You don’t have to go back too far to find something like this.”
During the 2006-2007 winter, Boulay said some snow fell in January and February but it didn’t amount to a heavy snowfall.
The National Weather Service revised its three-month outlook through March now saying there is an equal chance the weather may be warmer than normal or colder than normal. From July through December, the weather records in the Twin Cities show this year has been the second warmest on record dating back to 1873. From October to December, it was the third warmest on record. Only 1931 was warmer. Records for the Brainerd area are not that extensive, but Boulay suspects central Minnesota’s history would be close.
And temperatures for the state indicate a very warm finish for 2011 overall, Boulay said.
Even as snow fell Friday in Brainerd to make it look more like winter, the warm temperatures make it questionable if it is here to stay. The forecast calls for sunny skies and a high near 38 on Thursday. The only reliable snow cover in the lakes area has been assisted by humans and has made for skiing, tubing and snowboarding opportunities at Ski Gull.
If a lack of snow cover persists and temperatures plummet, there is concern for frozen septic systems and death for perennial plants. And if the snow drought extends through spring, the issue of more and perhaps larger grass fires will worsen very quickly, Boulay said. It’s been a tough winter for snowmobilers so far and those whose livelihood depends on snow removal. On the positive side, heating costs are down, cities and counties haven’t eaten into stock piles of salt and sand or overtime snow plowing, residents haven’t struggled to push snow off rooftops and retailers were not hampered by bad weather during their major revenue period of holiday shopping.
But Boulay said there is still hope for snow and more traditional winter accumulations. He said Minnesota winters have a history of a lot of snow and some with very little.
“It’s hard to maintain a weather pattern for the entire winter,” Boulay said, noting while it’s been largely snowless so far, that could change. While the rest of winter has a 50-50 chance to go either way, for those who don’t enjoy the winter, there is one thing that is a definite. The winter of 2011-2012, which apparently won’t really begin until the new year is well in place, will be short.
Boulay said: “The days are already getting longer.”
RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at 855-5852 or firstname.lastname@example.org.