The best thing about this March may be that it’s about to end.
Saturday’s relatively balmy weather aside, the coldest March since 2002 has left much of the Minnesota landscape still covered in snow, street crews wondering when to commit to spring chores, and homeowners facing monthly heating bills nearly double what they were last year.
Of course, last year the average Twin Cities temperature for the entire month, night and day, was 48.3 degrees, a mark we didn’t exceed as a single daytime high this year until Friday, with a high of 49.
In Bemidji, where about 2 feet of snow was still on the ground Thursday, hardware store manager Jeff Cwikla said he should have been selling yard rakes, but was selling roof rakes instead. On Lake Pepin, ice in the final week of March was thicker than it was Feb. 13.
“The good news is that we’re experiencing less of a pothole problem than we might ordinarily have seen, ” said Mike Kennedy, Minneapolis street maintenance supervisor. “The bad news is that there’s still snow on the ground.”
In most years, April 1 finds Kennedy’s department taking the plow blades off trucks and pulling in extra workers for street repair and construction. It is, he said, the beginning of the “summer season.” But crews haven’t begun a parkway-sweeping project they usually do in March.
But back on the good news side of the ledger, Monday is the last calendar day on which Minneapolis can legally call a snow emergency.
Nature watchers report that migrating waterfowl haven’t shown much interest in returning to Minnesota because lakes and wetlands remain frozen. Assistant state climatologist Pete Boulay said this year may bring the latest arrival for red-winged blackbirds in his 14 years of watching.
The average date for the arrival in St. Paul of the first towboat up the Mississippi over the past decade is March 20; Friday there wasn’t a tow within 200 miles. For a recent maple syrup-making program, Kirk Mona, naturalist at Warner Nature Center near Marine on St. Croix, had to substitute water for maple sap in the evaporator, since sap production is “at a standstill.”
Big swing from 2012
This March has suffered mightily in comparison to March 2012, which was the warmest on record. And although this month has been the coldest in relation to what’s normal since February 2007, weather-watchers also insist that it’s really been the kind of March that Minnesotans know all too well. It will end about 40th on the list of coldest Marches, and roughly 24th snowiest out of more than 100.
“There’s nothing to complain about,” Boulay said.
The comparative chill is the result of a “very stubborn and persistent” flow of arctic air down across Minnesota and much of the eastern United States, said Tom Hultquist, chief science officer at the Twin Cities office of the National Weather Service.
Some of the effects have been measurable. Through Tuesday, this March had brought more than twice as many “heating degree days” as last March; the average residential natural gas heating bill had risen from $48 then to $90 now, not quite doubling, thanks to plentiful supply, said Becca Virden, spokeswoman for CenterPoint Energy.
What about the climate?
For some, the question of the month has been, “Is global warming done?”
Nope, Hultquist says. Heat-trapping gas from the burning of fossil fuels has continued to increase in the atmosphere, and a cold March in Minnesota is a blip on the global scale.
“Just as last March was no proof that warming was happening at a more as a rapid pace, you can’t use this month as an example that you’ve stopped warming,” he added. “The long-term trend has not changed.”