As December begins, many Minnesotans are asking 'where is the snow?'

a map showing snowfall totals
Predicted precipitation through Dec. 15.
WeatherBELL Analytics

Last month was the second-driest November on record for the Twin Cities, with overall temperatures sitting at 3.7 degrees above average while precipitation for the month was 1.57 inches below average. 

For the month of November, the Twin Cities saw 0.04 inches of precipitation while the average is normally 1.61 inches. Snowfall followed the same pattern last month, with the Twin Cities area accumulating just 0.5 inches of the average 6.8 inches of snow by the end of the month, according to the National Weather Service. 

a graph showing average precipitation
Accumulated precipitation
National Weather Service

a graph showing average snowfall
Accumulated snowfall
National Weather Serivce

The Twin Cities area and much of central and southern Minnesota is currently stuck in a dry pattern that started all the way back in early May, with the only exception being the three-to-four-week wet period in late September and early October. During this time, there was a spike on Sept. 25, with 1.90 inches, an all-time high for the year.

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Below is a sort of average of computer models for the next two weeks. It paints a “more of the same picture” of below normal precipitation and snowfall for all of Minnesota through mid December.

a map showing snowfall totals
Predicted precipitation through Dec. 15.
WeatherBELL Analytics

So where is the snow? 

El Niño is also said to be playing a key factor in the predicted warm December temperatures. An El Niño winter is a seasonal weather pattern that occurs when unusually warm ocean water piles up along the equatorial west coast of South America. This phenomenon affects weather patterns around the globe, bringing milder temperatures and less snowfall to the northern parts of the United States.  

El Niño not only correlates to milder winters for Minnesota, but typically results in less seasonal snowfall. For example, in the Twin Cities we average about 23 percent less snowfall as well as winter temperatures that average more than two degrees above normal. El Niño also doubles the odds of a brown Christmas in the Twin Cities.

The wettest year-to-date for Minneapolis was 2019 with an accumulated daily precipitation of 41.41 inches by Dec. 6, and the driest year-to-date was 1910 with an accumulated daily precipitation of 11.23 inches by Dec. 6, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources year-to-date precipitation chart

In 2023, Minneapolis is currently at 27.47 inches of accumulated daily precipitation, which is 3.23 inches lower than what the Twin Cities will normally see for precipitation rates by this time of year. A wet last winter and early spring has helped to keep our overall annual total higher.

Other parts of the state have also been witnessing the effects of El Niño, however, in a few places like Duluth, overall precipitation is closer to normal but far below normal on snowfall this season. For example, the current accumulated year-to-date daily precipitation in Duluth is 29.87 inches and the average by Dec. 6 is normally 30.02 inches. 

While El Niño has clearly affected much of the state, it is still quite early in the winter season, and some flurries can be expected to come down eventually.