Is Minnesota's coldest month trending warmer? – CBS Minnesota – CBS Minnesota

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By Jeff Wagner
/ CBS Minnesota
MINNEAPOLIS – It’s not just snow pelting Minnesota during this winter storm. 
Above-freezing temperatures are making it a mixed bag of precipitation for many towns. That warmer weather might make several appearances this month. 
Is Minnesota’s coldest month trending warmer? And what are the implications of rising temperatures?
The new year started literally with a warm welcome. WCCO Chief Meteorologist Chris Shaffer says it was the warmest New Year’s Eve in 11 years. A midnight temperature cracking 30 in a month notorious for sending thermometers plunging to bone shivering depths.
Pete Boulay is a climatologist with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
“Going through about the middle of the month it’s pretty high confidence of being above normal,” Boulay said. “In the past 20 years there’s been a couple years in the past where we’ve really had warm Januarys. You know, 2006, 2012 were both in the top ten warmest Januarys on record.”
The average temperature for a Minnesota January is a high around 23 degrees and a low close to 9. That makes the overall average around 16 degrees.
“The warmest January on record is 2006. We had 28.6 degrees for average temperature,” Boulay said.
Is having a January thaw normal?
“Absolutely,” Boulay said. “Almost every year we have a January thaw.”  
A January thaw consists of two days in a row above freezing. In 2017, there were eight straight days above 32 degrees in the Twin CIties, forcing the ice castles and skating rinks to close – while some golf driving ranges opened.
“And that’s kind of what’s happening this January, too. We’re not seeing any sign of that really cold, below zero air coming down to the Twin Cities at all. And it’s being bottled up into Canada and way north into Canada, too,” Boulay said.
What are the implications, if there are any, of having these warmer Januarys?
“It obviously affects ice condition,” Boulay said.
Ice fishing companies on Mille Lacs are crossing their fingers that temps stay below freezing to make the ice safe for vehicles. 
And pothole season could also have an early start.
“A lot of freeze and thaws on pavement that will start working to break down the pavement,” he said.
There is plenty of one element this season however that helps prevent record warmth: Snow pack.
“If you have almost no snow cover, than the sun’s energy can go into warming the ground, warming the air instead of just reflecting off into space,” Boulay said.
Temps that trend above freezing this month can also help certain invasive species survive the winter, including Emerald Ash Borer and Japanese Beetles.
Jeff Wagner joined the WCCO-TV team in November 2016 as a general assignment reporter, and now anchors WCCO’s Saturday evening newscasts. Although he’s new to Minnesota, he’s called the Midwest home his entire life.
First published on January 3, 2023 / 10:07 PM
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