MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A warm start to winter is nice for commuters, and our home heating bills, but it’s downright brutal for people who love winter sports.

Open water still covers much of the state at a time when resorts should be busy with ice anglers.

With hopes of a white Christmas slipping away, organizers of some of our most popular winter festivals are getting worried. Sandstone’s annual Ice Fest was an early victim of the warm weather, and now organizers of fishing contests and loppets are starting to wonder what’s in store for them.

Instead of inching their way up the ice-covered cliffs of Sandstone’s Ice Fest, winter enthusiasts will have to settle for concrete, as winter continues to wimp out.

Ice climbing enthusiast Erik Anderson says some of his friends traveled to Montana’s icy cliffs instead. A warm December means no ice to climb, skate or fish on.

“[It’s] very sad right now,” Anderson said. “I just invested in new ice gear and I can’t use it.”

At Hyland Hills Ski area, a magnificent new chalet is off to a soggy start. Warm winter nights make it tough to even manufacture snow. A representative said the temperature needs to be at 27 degrees or lower for long periods of time, preferably with a low dew point, too.

University of Minnesota climatologist Mark Seeley says warm Pacific waters are to blame, pushing the jet stream way north.

“It’s one of the strongest El Niño episodes we’ve had in history,” he said. “So it’s playing out for us as a milder temperature pattern. We’re on course right now to set records all over the state, all over the region.”

For southeastern Minnesota, it’s already the wettest December on record. It’s also been the warmest in what’s long been “the nation’s ice box” — International Falls.

“Locally here in the Twin Cities, that would mean replacing records from 1877, which is really an old record,” Seeley said.

With unfrozen ground and ample rain, soil moisture is being recharged. That’s good for farmers and our evergreens. But really, Thunderstorms in December?

Still, there’s always hope, right?

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