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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Snow drought looks to continue

A mild and dry December is postponing many winter activities

Marshall Helmberger
Posted 12/16/20

REGIONAL— Santa may not need his sleigh when he arrives in the North Country next week. In the midst of a mild and dry winter season, the North Country has remarkably little snow on the ground …

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Snow drought looks to continue

A mild and dry December is postponing many winter activities

Posted

REGIONAL— Santa may not need his sleigh when he arrives in the North Country next week. In the midst of a mild and dry winter season, the North Country has remarkably little snow on the ground for this time of year and there’s not much sign of a change in that weather pattern for the foreseeable future.
The area will almost certainly still experience a “white Christmas,” at least in a technical sense. Based on weather history, the North Country has a 100 percent chance of a white Christmas, which is defined as having one or more inches of snow on the ground as of Dec. 25.
But while the landscape in the region is certainly white, the two-to-four inches of snow—much of it dating back to a mid-November snowstorm— is a far cry from the usual conditions experienced here in the second half of December. The conditions have left area snowmobile and ski trails closed and most snow lovers looking longingly at weather forecasts for hints of the white stuff.
At least northern Minnesotans aren’t alone. The snow drought is widespread, and northeastern Minnesota is one of the few places in the Lower 48 states, outside the Rockies, with any appreciable snow cover right now. Even the Upper Midwest’s usual snowbelt, the U.P of Michigan, has been mostly snow free up until mid-week. It’s part of an ongoing drought that now covers more than half the country, including most of Minnesota. Much of the U.S. southwest is in either extreme or exceptional drought and various levels of drought extend across almost the entirety of the western half of the U.S., including Minnesota.
The extent of the drought varies here in the North Country. One of the hardest hit areas is Ely, which could well finish the year with less than 20 inches of total precipitation. If so, that would make it the driest year in the period of record at Vermilion Community College. Retired instructor Pete Doran and, in more recent years, instructor Wade Klingsporn have been maintaining daily records from the same weather station for 43 years now. The year 1997 holds the current record for the driest year in that period, with total precipitation of 20.89 inches. As of this week, Klingsporn has recorded just 19.60 inches of precipitation in 2020, with just two weeks to go in December.
It’s now part of a pattern of dry years in the Ely, as 2020 is almost certain to be the third straight year with total annual precipitation of under 25 inches. That’s contributed to the gradual decline of Ely’s long-term average for precipitation. As recently as five years ago, the average was just over 29 inches, but that has gradually declined to 28.81 through last year and that average is almost certain to fall even further once 2020 is officially in the books.
Other area weather stations are also running well below their average for the year, although generally are not experiencing as severe a deficit as Ely.
One exception is the longtime Cook area observer, where precipitation is running only about an inch and a half below average.

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