Those seeking weather normalcy will have to wait

 

January 5, 2024

Jana Peterson

Bare ground and running water under just a skimming of ice is the way of winter so far in the region. And so it was at the Sax Zim Bog in late December, a month that is now the warmest on record in Minnesota.

It was a December like no other in Carlton County, not even the strange one in 1877-78 that augured a remarkable winter into the spring.

In short, history was made as the region and the state had its warmest December. This comes after history was made last season in high snowfall totals.

Cloquet saw temperatures average nearly 10 degrees warmer than normal last month at 25.1 degrees at the Cloquet Forestry Center. Recordings were higher at the Fond du Lac Reservation weather station (29.2) and in Moose Lake (28.4) and Wright (28.9).

And it was warmer by Lake Superior. Official Duluth records show no daily temperatures below zero with an average temperature a whopping 30.1 degrees, a few degrees warmer than December of 1877, which many have thought would be unbeatable. The next warmest December in Duluth was in 1931, at an average of 26.7 degrees.

Lumberjacks Nordic ski coach Tim Stark's wish for a white Christmas didn't come true. The region had only its third snowless Dec. 25 in the past 82 years.

That meant the Jan. 4 home meet for the CEC team had to be relocated from Pine Valley - which still has only a dusting of snow - to the Grand Avenue Nordic Center at Duluth's Spirit Mountain, where manmade snow has kept local cross country teams able to compete this season.

And making outdoor ice rinks hasn't been in the cards either, as the temperatures need to stabilize first. There were many nights in December when the overnight temperature did not get below the freezing mark.

"December 2023 featured an extraordinary combination of warmth, wetness, and snowlessness, breaking or challenging records in all three categories," the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources reported in its climate journal at the end of the year.

The DNR noted that December was more like November in Minnesota, with bare ground dominating the landscape across the state for much or all of the month, and temperatures remaining mild virtually every day, with a few bouts of very warm weather. Christmas week saw a relative heat wave and pouring rain, leading to near-record amounts.

Meteorologists expected a warmer winter before it even began. Strong El Niño conditions in the Pacific Ocean have kept cold winter air masses in central and northern Canada.

The DNR said the lack of snow cover boosted temperatures because bare ground absorbs sunlight and warms the air above it 10 to 20 times more effectively than fresh snow. "A lack of snow cover allows temperatures to rise more readily, making rain more likely," the DNR reported.

The highest temperature recorded in the state was 68 degrees in Canby on Dec. 8.

December of 1877 has long stood out at weather stations in Duluth and Minneapolis as the

warmest.

Before official numbers were gathered for last month, the DNR described that December and winter from 146 years ago:

"The meteorological winter of 1877-78 (December through February) is the warmest on record in the Twin Cities area and Duluth, with December of 1877 so outrageously warm that its records have seemed untouchable for over 145 years.

Jana Peterson

The ice rink at Pinehurst Park in Cloquet remains devoid of ice this week as a record-setting warm December kept most winter outdoor activity at bay across the region and state.

"Dubbed 'The Year without a Winter,' 1877-78 had an average temperature of 29 degrees in the Twin Cities area. A healthy margin of 2.1 degrees separates it from the next-warmest winter on record, 1930-31, which had an average temperature of 26.9 degrees. Closely following in third place is the winter of 2001-02, at 26.8 degrees.

"The 1877-78 winter has defended its longstanding title almost effortlessly, even as the Twin Cities area has grown warmer from urban expansion and as winters across the entire region have warmed rapidly in response to global temperature increases.

"Although the warmth in 1877-78 could be detected into April, the most outstandingly warm month was December. At Duluth, it was an astonishing 5.8 degrees warmer than the second-warmest December on record in 1891."

The long-term forecast shows things edging closer to average in temperatures this January, perhaps enough to firm up ice that has been unsafe for much of the winter. Historically, the first three weeks of January are the coldest in Minnesota. Snowfall chances remain spotty, with a few inches expected this weekend.

 
 

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