Skis? Skates? Sleds? Try shorts, kites and bicycles

  • Article by: PAUL LEVY, PAM LOUWAGIE and HERON MARQUEZ ESTRADA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 27, 2011 - 6:53 AM

Winter took a Christmastime holiday Monday, with the temp hitting an un-Twin Cities-like 52 degrees.

On the day after Christmas, those new sleds had to wait, while Twin Cities paths were crowded with bicyclists and bare-legged runners and temperatures soared to a record 52 degrees.

Monday's reading broke the previous high of 51 for Dec. 26, set in 1936, according to the National Weather Service.

"I wish I'd brought a short-sleeved shirt with me," said Nick Juravich, 27, a graduate student in New York who was running around Lake Calhoun in shorts. "It feels like spring."

Welcome to our winter wonderland! Families flew kites while others played touch football at Lynnhurst Park in southwest Minneapolis. Dozens of runners clad in shorts jogged along Minnehaha Parkway. Riders awaiting buses basked in the sun. And weirdly, for the day after Christmas, grass fires popped up around the dry, brown metro area, fanned by brisk winds.

Monday's high at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport was closer to the average this time of year for the Carolinas, Arkansas and Oklahoma, said James McQuirter, a meteorologist in the National Weather Service's Chanhassen office.

The Twin Cities area wasn't the state's hot spot, though. Morton, Minn., checked in at 55 degrees.

It was part of a continuing pattern: December in the Twin Cities is running about 6 degrees above average, after a November that was 5.5 degrees above normal and an October that ran 6.4 degrees above average, the weather service said.

The temperature soared recently in part because there have been few clouds and little snow cover to keep things cool, McQuirter said.

Although Tuesday's predicted high of 31 is much closer to the normal of 24 for this date, Twin Cities temps are expected to be at least slightly above average through the week, with a chance of snow by Friday, McQuirter said. Into the first week of January, the chance of snow may be a little more significant, but he said to expect "nothing substantial still." The best chance for snow in the next couple of weeks will be in northern Minnesota, he said.

The timing of this sudden heat wave could not have been better, said Rick Bell, 65, a psychologist who was in the midst of a 12- to 15-mile bicycle ride Monday -- his first ride in nearly two months.

"It's the day after Christmas and most of us have eaten way too much," he said. "It's nice to get out in the sun and this wonderful blue sky, even if the wind is lousy."

That wind, brisk earlier in the day, was enough to tease several kite enthusiasts.

Tom Marrinan, 56, was at Lynnhurst Park with others, "just letting this kite pull me around." He would have preferred flying his kite on the ice at Lake Calhoun or Lake Harriet, but the weather didn't cooperate. Too much had melted.

So had the flooded area at the center of Lynnhurst Park, noted Michael Osterland, who was at the park playing touch football with his two young sons and brother.

"I'm here from Montreal visiting my sister," Osterland said. "We wanted to play some outdoor hockey. Five or six years ago when we visited, we did some tobogganing and played hockey. Now, it's just too sunny and pleasant."

Just like Hawaii

Gretchen Ditto, 42, of Minneapolis, ran around Lake Calhoun in yoga pants, envisioning the Maui Marathon she plans to run in three weeks. Jerry Finley, 52, an electrical engineer from Minneapolis, was in shorts as he walked around Lake Calhoun with his wife, Liz.

"I grew up in Phoenix, so I'm used to warm weather in December," he said. "I guess walking outdoors in shorts this time of year makes me a full-blooded Minnesotan."

It wasn't too warm to ski. At Lutsen Mountains, marketing director Jim Vick pronounced the day "gorgeous ... an exceptional day for skiing during the holidays."

The warm weather is actually good for business at Burnsville's Buck Hill, which makes its own snow, because it makes skiing more pleasant, said general manager Don McClure.

"We actually fear bitter cold more than we do warmer weather," he said. "Nobody wants to [ski] at 30 below."

Not everyone was happy that temperatures were above 40. "I'm an ice fisherman and I'd like a little more snow," said Tim Pekarek of Apple Valley, who was bringing his 12-year-old son to ski at Buck Hill.

The warmth didn't sit that well with Martha Beck, who wore shorts and a T-shirt on her run across the Stone Arch bridge in Minneapolis.

"I'm mad about it. If you have this kind of winter, you're going to have fried crops in the summer," said Beck, who said she teaches about climate change as an Arkansas college philosophy professor.

Although new "normals" for temperature and precipitation have risen, according to a once-a-decade update of 30-year trends by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, meteorologists say Minnesota right now is experiencing a mild spurt.

"Really, you can't just look at one month or one season, or maybe one decade," said White Bear Lake meteorologist Frank Watson. "You have to look at an overall trend."

plevy@startribune.com • 612-673-4419 plouwagie@startribune.com • 612-673-7102 hme@startribune.com • 952-746-3281

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