You can feel it in the air: Winter has lost its nerve. We wonder if it's over, or whether we're just jinxing ourselves to ask the question. We get cocky, winter hits back, and the weatherperson says a strong front of malicious comeuppance is sweeping down from Canada.

But the rain -- sweet, wonderful rain -- has pounded down the snow, eroded the great glaciers along the boulevards into snirt-encrusted hillocks. If winter returns now, it'll be like a Roman general who comes back to a conquered province to find the troops have married the locals and taken up farming.

No small if, though. The high school sports tournaments aren't finished. We always expect the Boys' State Basketball Blizzard, as though there is something about the arrival of lanky outstate dribblers that calls down hell from on high. The tourney starts, and men fire up their snowblowers and stand in the driveway, watching the horizon with grim certainty.

But it's a myth. According to the U of M's Climatology Working Group, the blizzard is a shibboleth. Oh, we got 13.7 inches in 1952 and almost a foot 14 years later, but we haven't seen more than 4 inches since 2005, and if 4 inches is a blizzard I'm a starting forward.

If you go back to 1913, the year the tourneys began, less than 10 percent of the tourney periods saw more than 4 inches. We're four times more likely to have temps over 50, but no one talks about the Tournament Thaw With Morning Patchy Fog.

The Working Group slyly notes that "tournament" has been expanded to fit all the March Madnesses, which gooses the chances a bit, and made people wonder if this weekend's puck struggle in St. Paul would empty the heavens. Nope. But it's local lore, baked right into our culture. I'll bet there are retirees who've been in Arizona for 10 years who still put a bag of sand in the trunk when the state tourney starts.

In any case, we can relax. Two weeks of the usual gray smear ahead; a few flakes, sure. But we've won.

There is the State Tournament Flaming Acid Hailstorm to worry about, but I'd prefer to end this on an up note. • 612-673-7858 • More daily at