By Jeff Wagner

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A snowstorm is pounding the Northeastern United States, burying some cities in more than a foot of snow.

Minnesota hasn’t experienced anything close to that this winter, in addition to a lack of nights with temperatures below zero degrees.

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Even on a Monday, the dog park near MSP Airport stayed busy as temperatures stayed above freezing. It’s not often how people expect to start the month of February.

“Almost too easy,” dog owner Christine Hafner said. “I’m out here with no hat, no gloves and just, I’m actually kind of sweating.”

Fellow dog park visitor Liz Evensen agrees.

“I think the winter has been mild and wonderful,” Evensen said. “The dogs love it. They don’t need to wear their jackets this year.”

Evensen said balmy days make it almost impossible to lure her Great Dane, aptly named Thor, back to the car.

“He’ll act like it’s a summer day and he just wants to run and enjoy the weather,” she said.

Pete Boulay, a climatologist with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, says the “outrageous warmth” has stuck out to him the most so far this winter.

“In any given winter, we have about 23 nights that are at or below zero degrees [in the Twin Cities]. We’ve had two so far this year. We didn’t even get below zero in January,” Boulay said.

Those bitter nights would have scored points on the DNR’s seasonal measuring stick, formerly known as the “Winter Misery Index.” It’s now called the “Snow and Cold Index.”

“We got to realize that winter could fun for a lot of people, too,” Boulay said.

Evensen, a ski instructor, appreciates that.

“We pray for snow starting in September, and look forward to these days,” Evensen said.

Points are scored on the Snow and Cold Index for nights at or below zero — 1 point — and snowfall totals — 1 point for each inch, with bonus points for 4 inches and 8 inches of snowfall.

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For example, Minnesota notched 207 points during the polar vortex winter two years ago, which meant it was considered a “severe” winter. So far in the winter of 2020-2021, Minnesota has only scored 42 points.

(credit: CBS)

“Thirty-nine of [the points] have been with snow, and only three have been cold,” Boulay said.

As of right now, this winter qualifies as “mild” on the index. The seven-year average is 100 points, which would qualify as moderate.

The ample snow and warm temperatures have encouraged Minnesotans to go outdoors to enjoy all that winter sports have to offer — but it could create a pesky spring and summer.

How does temperature affect mosquitoes? WCCO spoke with Alex Carlson, public affairs coordinator with the Metropolitan Mosquito Control District.

“In the winter, temperature doesn’t really make much of a difference,” Carlson said. “The biggest thing that impacts mosquito development is water.”

Boulay says we’re getting above-average snowfall this winter, which will eventually melt this spring, and sooner than usual if our warm trend keeps up.

“We did have that year, 2012, where it was 80 degrees in March, and that led to some more early mosquito emergence,” Carlson said.

Even if our winter remains mild, it often rears its head in spring. Boulay pointed to the infamous thunder-blizzard in April of 2018 that dropped well over a foot of snow across the metro.

“For the past couple years we’ve had those April blizzards, and that’s usually a big contributor to early mosquito development,” Carlson said. “There’s a lot of water sitting there, that’s gonna lead to a lot of larvae emerging, and then that’s gonna mean more mosquitoes at the beginning of the season.”

There is one insect more than ready to embrace balmy temperatures: Ticks.

“If we have some of those milder weeks, especially with not a lot of snow cover, then we’re gonna start seeing ticks come out,” Carlson said.

That’s why he suggests keeping an eye out if you’re going on a hike in the woods during these warm winter days.

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“They’re ready to come out and start finding hosts as soon as the weather warms enough for them to move,” he said.

Jeff Wagner