Winter's halftime score: On pace for mildest winter in 8 years?

It's been a snowy, but milder than average winter so far for much of Minnesota

Blue sky and snow cover at The Weather Lab
Blue sky and fresh snow cover at The Weather Lab.
Paul Huttner/MPR News

Welcome to halftime in a Minnesota winter.

We’re just past the midway point of meteorological winter on the calendar. So far this winter has brought plenty of snow to most of Minnesota. And who can forget the remarkable ice storm on Dec. 28?

Mildest winter in 8 years

This winter is on pace to be the mildest winter in eight years for the Twin Cities. So far winter temperatures in the Twin Cities are running about 3.4 degrees higher than average through Monday. We’ve already had eight days this month at or above 32 degrees in the Twin Cities.

The Minnesota DNR Snow and Cold Index tracks cumulative winter temperatures and snowfall. Points are assigned for cold and snow. More points means a more severe winter.

So far this winter the index formerly known as the Winter Misery Index has accumulated just 35 points. That puts this winter solidly in the very mild category so far.

Snow and cold index
Snow and cold index so far this winter
Minnesota DNR State Climatology Office

Milder winters overall

We still get some pretty respectable winters in Minnesota. The last winter was a good example of that. After a mild start through mid-January, we racked up 157 points, which just boosted last winter into the severe category.

But if you score the past 20 winters in the Twin Cities a clear trend emerges.

Nine of the past 20 winters score as mild or very mild. Nine also score as moderate. But just two of the past 20 winters score as severe (2014 and 2019). And none have reached the very severe category!

Snow and cold index 2
Snow and cold index history
Minnesota DNR Climate Working Group

That means mild or very mild winters have outscored severe or very severe winters by a score of 9-2. So the trend toward milder winters overall in Minnesota is very clear.

Mild finish to January

Yet another January thaw arrives Wednesday. And the upper air pattern for the rest of January strongly favors higher than average temperatures with a mild Pacific airflow.

NOAA upper air forecast map for 6 pm January 27
NOAA upper air forecast map for 6 p.m. Jan. 27

Temperatures in the Twin Cities are already running 3.3 degrees higher than average this month. Looking at the maps, it’s likely we’ll run at least 5 degrees higher than average overall the rest of the month. That means we’ll likely finish January at least 4 degrees above average.

Last winter also started mild, then turned extremely cold and snowy. The longer range temperature outlooks suggest this February could be a different story. NOAA’s CFS2 temperature outlooks right now favor a warmer than usual February.

NOAA CFS2 temperature outlook for February 2020
NOAA CFS2 temperature outlook for February 2020

That could change of course. But if current trends continue, this could go down as one of the milder winters in the past 30 years in the Twin Cities.

Stay tuned.

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