Jan 3, 2024 - Things to Do

Record December warmth delays winter fun in the Twin Cities

Illustration of a melted snowman wearing sunglasses.

Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

The warm start to winter has put cold weather fun on ice across the Twin Cities.

What's happening: Record December temps melted plans for the world's largest ice maze, canceled holiday ski clinics at Como Park, and set outdoor rinks in Minneapolis and St. Paul weeks behind schedule.

The latest: On Tuesday, John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon organizers called off the annual northern Minnesota race, citing "unpredictable" weather and concerns about dog and musher safety.

The big picture: December was the warmest on record in Minnesota, with minimal snow in the metro.

  • The average daily temp in the Twin Cities last month — 34.3℉ — was about 12 degrees above normal, per the NWS.

Threat level: It's not just winter activities and events on the line. Current conditions have created dangerous situations on lakes statewide, prompting ice fishing rescues and restrictions.

Driving the mercury: Winter is the fastest warming season across much of the U.S. due to human-caused climate change. A strong El Niño will make this season especially mild, per the NOAA Climate Prediction Center's winter forecast.

What's ahead: While still above normal, temps should be below freezing for much of this week. Next week could bring colder air and two to three inches of snow, per the NWS.

Yes, but: It takes a "consistent period" of seven to 10 days below freezing to create safe skating ice, per St. Paul Parks and Recreation. That means rinks could still be more than a week away from opening.

  • NWS Twin Cities meteorologist Ryan Dunleavy urges caution around lake ice until we see a "solid timeframe" of below-average temps, noting that factors such as size and depth can impact how long it takes for ice to be thick enough to be safe.

What we're watching: Whether the warm streak impacts upcoming outdoor events and activities.

  • Organizers of the U.S. Pond Hockey Championships and the Art Shanty Projects, both scheduled to kick off in late January, told Axios they'll announce changes or modifications by mid-month.
  • Meanwhile, the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board started twice-daily watering of rinks on Tuesday in hopes of getting them open by mid-January.

The bottom: Even if the lakes freeze in time, boosters of activities that require snow may find themselves scrambling.

  • In a fundraising plea to supporters last week, Loppet Foundation executive director Claire Wilson said organizers "have lost ground" on preparations for the upcoming cross-country skiing World Cup due to the "horrid start to winter."
Twin Cities average daily temperature
Data: National Weather Service. Chart: Axios Visuals

This is just the second time on record that the average temperature for December was above freezing, Dunleavy told Axios.

  • The last instance was in 1877.

Zoom out: It's not just the Twin Cities feeling the effects of the warm December. About 0.35% of the Great Lakes had ice cover as of Tuesday, per NOAA.

  • Normally, the ice cover at this point would be at around 9%.

Editor's note: This item has been updated to correct the name of Arty Shanty Projects.

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