Minnesota, you got off easy this winter

Ice houses on White Bear Lake on Feb. 14, 2017.
Ice houses on White Bear Lake on Tuesday. Sheriff's departments are urging people to be cautious on metro area lakes because of the warm weather.
Martin Moylan | MPR News

If you feel we've had a mild winter, you're right.

We've racked up just 48 points on the Winter Misery Index this year, which measures the severity of our winters, assigning points for snowfall and especially cold temperatures.

Temps in central and southern Minnesota are heading into the 50s starting this weekend, and they may even tickle 60 in some places. The forecast is extraordinary for mid-February in Minnesota — even in a period that has seen 17 straight months at above normal temperatures

We're getting off easy this year, said MPR News meteorologist Paul Huttner.

"This is actually more like living in Kansas City, in terms of average climate over the last 100 years, than living in the Twin Cities," Huttner said.

The warmth is forcing a change in habits for some Minnesotans.

Earlier this week, Bob Schmidt and his son pulled their icehouse off White Bear Lake, though the deadline to be off the ice is still over two weeks away.

This is the earliest they've pulled an icehouse to shore.

"With potentially 50 degree weather, the shoreline here will get really boggy," Schmidt said. "There's almost 18 inches of ice in the middle of the lake here yet, so there's plenty out there. But it's getting [the icehouse] off the lake that's the hard part."

There's not much snow around the metro area. But there's plenty at the Afton Alps ski area, where some warmth is actually good for business.

Afton expects a lot of people will love to get an early dose of spring skiing this weekend.

Bonnie Condit skis at Afton Alps.
Bonnie Condit skis at Afton Alps on Wednesday in Afton, Minn. She said likes skiing when the temps are hovering around freezing.
Martin Moylan | MPR News

"Skiing in warm temperatures is ideal," said marketing manager Pam Hoye. "Our snow base is fantastic. The ski conditions are great."

All 47 of Afton's runs are open, with snow bases between two and five feet deep.

Nature hasn't delivered the usual snow supply this year, but Afton's snow making system has made up for that. Hoye said people who ski regularly know Afton has ample snow.

But people who ski occasionally or want to try skiing may assume otherwise. So, in those cases, warm temps can hurt the business.

"It is a challenge when they're looking out their window and see just grass in their yards," Hoye said.

There is some snow forecasted for next week, and Frattallone's Ace Hardware stores are looking forward to it — they have hundreds of snowblowers in stock still.

Mike Frattallone, co-owner of Frattalone's Ace Hardware, which has 21 stores in the metro area, said winter had a promising start.

"It started out real nice and snowy and we had some great ice storms," he said. "But people now think it's spring and it's not quite spring yet."

So, he's got all those snowblowers left, along with rock salt and snow shovels, which could be in demand again if there's another big snowstorm or two.

Still, Frattallone said he's getting his stores ready about a month earlier than usual for spring, bringing out lawnmowers, grills, seeds, planters and coolers.

"Spring, that's when we really do the lion's share of our business," he said. "But I had someone call just the other day and ask me what our plants were going to get here. Our plants aren't going to get here for a couple of months still. We have some time."

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