Market Matters Blog

Meteorological Winter? Minnesota, Other Northern States Beg to Differ

Mary Kennedy
By  Mary Kennedy , DTN Basis Analyst
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Pictured is Eagle Lake in Maple Grove, Minnesota. This lake is near my house and I normally take daily walks on it and ice fish on the weekends. Neither of those things has happened since it was frozen solid for only a few weeks. (DTN photo by Mary Kennedy)

Meteorologists and climatologists break the seasons down into groupings of three months based on the annual temperature cycle as well as our calendar, according to NOAA. "We generally think of winter as the coldest time of the year and summer as the warmest time of the year, with spring and fall being the transition seasons, and that is what the meteorological seasons are based on. Meteorological spring in the Northern Hemisphere includes March, April and May; meteorological summer includes June, July and August; meteorological fall includes September, October and November; and meteorological winter includes December, January and February."

Here in Minnesota, especially in the Twin Cities, we call the current weather a fake spring. That means when the temperatures hang at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or above with no snow cover, we dig out our shorts and sandals, fully aware that in a few days, we will be back to wearing jackets and boots. This winter, or what has become a fake winter, we have spent all but maybe three weeks without jackets and boots.

The month of December 2023 in the Twin Cities was the third warmest on record, with Christmas Day at 54 degrees, breaking the old record of 51 degrees in 1922, according to the National Weather Service (NWS). We had open water on all the lakes here in the Cities when normally they would be frozen.

In January, we had a cold spell in the middle of the month that lasted a few weeks for us to go ice fishing or ice skating, a few of our favorite pastimes in Minnesota. By the end of January, the ice rinks closed and the lakes started thawing again. All the winter events like the ice palaces, pond hockey tournament, ice sculptures and others were canceled. As for snowmobilers, they were still looking for that first heavy snow. So far in the Cities, we have registered a measly 7.3 inches of snow for the fake winter.

The Twin Cities broke the previous January record of 46 degrees on Jan. 31, hitting 55 degrees, according to the NWS. In Canby, Minnesota, in the southwestern part of the state, the temperature hit 61 degrees according to the NWS.

As we rolled into February, the warm weather continued. While winter sports enthusiasts lament the warm temperatures, golfers are having the time of their lives as at least 12 golf courses have opened, a very unusual event in January and February. On the flip side, those of us with allergies have seen them return much earlier, thanks to the warm weather.

Up north on Lake Superior, the ice coverage is only 6% as of Feb. 3, with the average for this time of year at 30%. In fact, the entire Great Lakes system combined is 8% covered with ice versus the average of 34%. This warm weather was a bonus for the 2023 shipping season.…


I asked a few farmers in Minnesota if the lack of snow will hurt their soil moisture profile as planting season nears.

"This is something I hear from people a lot, that we've had so little snow and how that will affect us in the upcoming season," said Eric Dahlager, Sacred Heart, Minnesota. "People are forgetting Christmas to New Year and the approximately 3 inches of rain that we got, and all soaked in because the soils were not frozen. Image that 3 inches rain as snow: maybe 25 to 30-plus inches of snow. Given that and some of the rain potential in the near future, we are sitting pretty good on moisture coming into the real spring season. Fifty-eight degrees here on Feb. 1! However, March and April could still be very interesting."

Tyler Siegfried added, "In southwest Minnesota, we are sitting on perfect conditions going into spring as of right now. I wouldn't say our soil profile is full right now though."

"The area farmers are very concerned about dry soils," said Mark Nowak, Wells, Minnesota. "We did get an inch of rain on Christmas Day so our topsoil right now is barely adequate. We've had less than a foot of snow all winter. Subsoil is very short for any staying power come spring without a spring recharge."

Nowak mentioned the 2022 Hung Tonga volcanic eruption in the Pacific blew up normal atmospheric conditions, causing weather issues in 2023. "That atmosphere disruption could still have global weather impacts for 2024." Here is an interesting research piece done by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and published on Dec. 20, 2023:…

In North Dakota, where the winter hit early and has since warmed up, I asked about the soil moisture profile there. Austin Sundee, Lakota, North Dakota told me, "We have decent moisture right now from that October snow, but with the bare ground, I don't know how we're going to hold onto it until spring."

"While the two-something inches of freezing rain we got on Christmas Day was very devastating for power supply and power poles, it did improve soil moisture, which wasn't critically short anyway," said Keith Brandt, general manager of Plains Grain and Agronomy LLC, Enderlin, North Dakota. I see southeast North Dakota being in good shape for soil moisture to start the spring. As always, a half inch of rain 10 days to two weeks after planting will make good farmers out of all of them."

Cory Tryan, grain manager, Alton Grain Terminal, LLC, Hillsboro, North Dakota, said, "It's hard to say. We had a little rain last fall and at Christmas, but no cover now, and frost is less than a foot deep if any in places. It'll all depend on any further moisture or how bad we may dry out before the calendar turns enough and they can get in the fields. Forecasts are not calling for any moisture yet. Winds will hurt now, so the jury is still out."

Mary Kennedy can be reached at

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