Dry December threatens bare Christmas in Duluth, central Minnesota

DULUTH — Duluth is expected to have an inch of snow on the ground come Dec. 25 — but that’s about it. That’s technically enough to consider it a white Christmas.

Technically.

“An inch looks pretty optimistic at this point — an inch of new snow,” said Bryan Howell, a meteorologist at the national Weather Service in Duluth. “There’s also the potential we’re going to be warm next week, so that might be liquid as opposed to snow.”

Below-average precipitation and above-average temperatures so far in December have threatened a brown Christmas across the middle third of the state and parts of the North Shore, according to the most recent snow-depth map from the state Department of Natural Resources.

“We’ve been stuck in a pattern here where storm systems have just been going north or south,” Howell said. “We haven’t really had a good intrusion of cold air that’s actually stuck around for a while.”

Duluth has had only two bare Christmases in the past 70 years, with the last coming in 2006, according to the Minnesota State Climatology Office.

“A brown Christmas for that area is pretty rare,” said Assistant State Climatologist Pete Boulay. “We could have an Alberta Clipper come through in the next 10 days — anything could happen.”

For those anxious to get on their skis or sleds: The snow is out there. It’s just a further drive than some might like.

“Right now it’s about a solid foot base,” said Drew Duffy, an employee at the Golden Eagle Lodge on the Gunflint Trail. “We’ve got enough where we’ve been able to do some basic grooming for some ski trails up here.”

Even with the ground covered, more snow would be preferable.

“It definitely hasn’t been a typical December,” Duffy said. “We’re getting there — it’s just been slow.”

Outside resorts like Spirit Mountain, Lutsen and Giants Ridge, the DNR reports poor conditions for most ski and snowmobile trails in Northeastern Minnesota — and much of the rest of the state.

Some snowmobile trails are open in Iron County, according to TravelWisconsin.com, and the western Upper Peninsula has held onto its early base — for now.

“The sun is shining and the temperature is going the wrong way,” said Michael Meyer, director of the Ironwood Chamber of Commerce. “We’re just waiting for Christmas week — it looks like it’s finally going to be cold and stay cold.”

Businesses in the area are optimistic they’ll get heavy snow that sticks around, as happened last year.

“They’re all looking at the weather and saying c’mon…” Meyer said.

If it isn’t a white Christmas in Duluth — “If we have anything it’s not going to be a lot,” Howell said — but it at least won’t be as cold as last year. The high on Dec. 25, 2017, was 8-below — the coldest Christmas in decades.

“It may be the opposite of last year,” Boulay said, “when it was cold and snowy.”