Lack of snow hampers rural business
Playing King of the Hill is considerably less dangerous this year, as snow piles are rarely over a couple of feet high.
That's the upside.
The downside is that grown up play has also been hampered, and that spells trouble for area businesses that rely on winter recreation such as snowmobiling.
"We're down a good 25 percent in revenue this winter," said Rayna Tucker, who owns the Ice Cracking Lodge with her husband Steve.
On snowier winters, the Ice Cracking is packed with hundreds of snowmobilers on any given Saturday.
This year, crickets.
"A lot of the businesses around here are having a tough time because nobody is out," said Tucker, who has 12 employees who are also feeling the no-snow sting.
"I have to cut back on their hours, and that doesn't make me feel good either because they've got families, too," said Tucker.
The Ice Cracking is hardly alone.
Vicky Johnson has worked at Randy's on Lake Eunice for 20 years, and she says she can't remember a worse year for snowmobilers than this one.
"Usually we've got guys from the Old Timer's Run in here a good portion of the day," said Johnson, of the Feb. 4 event that saw little ride-time. "But we didn't see any snowmobilers in that day, which then effects other business, too, because people come out to see those snowmobilers."
Heading northeast, it's no better.
A brand new trail groomer sits idle outside of the Two Inlets Country Store north of Park Rapids.
"It has zero miles on it," said Store Owner Tim Eischens, "On a normal Saturday we get 400 sleds -- we haven't had 10 sleds all year."
Eischens says the situation is frustrating because "you can't make it snow," and slow business has meant cutting back on his employees' hours as well.
And as many business owners are left fishing for ideas on how to make up the revenue, there has been only limited help from anglers.
"They've been going out a lot lately now, but when it was warm they weren't going out doing that either, because the ice was bad and fish houses were sinking," said Richard Curley, owner of Curley's on Cotton Lake. "I don't think I've seen a winter like this in many years ... this has to be the worst one for being so nice."
Snow could still show up
But according to officials at the National Weather Service in Grand Forks, this "awfully" mild, dry winter can flip to become one of the snowiest at any time.
The whopping 8.8 inches of snow Detroit Lakes has seen this winter still has ample time to multiply, and could easily make it to the area's 45.5 inch average.
"In 2008 Detroit Lakes had seen very little snow by this time, and then February, March and April turned out to be incredibly snowy," said National Weather Service Climate Forecaster Mark Ewens, who says April of 2008 produced 33 inches of snow in that month alone.
He says the year before that Detroit Lakes started out with only six inches of snow at this time and ended up with above average snowfall.
A milder Minnesota
"We all have really bad weather memories," said Ewens, "We all think it's been since the 1950s that it's been this warm and dry, but actually our warmest winter on record was just in 2006."
In fact, Ewens says the past decade and a half has been unusually warm, with 2002 being the second warmest on record and 1999 being the third.
"So while this is unusual in the longer term records, it isn't in the short term ones," said Ewens, who doesn't call it global warming because he says the entire globe is not warming, but rather, only parts of it.
Ewens says mid-section states directly south of here are actually cooling significantly.
For those of us sitting in the Detroit Lakes area and beyond, he says the climate is shifting to a milder version of the Minnesota we once knew.
"The winters are warming up, but you'll also notice that the summers are cooling down," said Ewens. "How many summers do you remember that have had long stretches of 90 degree weather? Not many anymore."
Adjusting to the change
Although many local businesses are stuck in limbo, hoping to either see a serious snow dumping or an extraordinarily early spring, others are finding ways around it.
"I know Maplelag and Rainbow Resort are being really innovative and having snow hauled in," said Detroit Lakes Regional Chamber of Commerce President Carrie Johnston, "and they've all been really good to keep everybody up to the minute on snowfall, so if they do get a little, everybody shows up really quickly to ski or snowmobile on that inch of snow."
Johnston says many business owners have also been taking advantage of the warm, dry weather by getting other types of work done that they wouldn't normally get to do, especially construction.
"I guess we've just got to get out there and try to enjoy the weather," said Johnston, "and just maybe do a little snow dance."