Forget all the scuttlebutt you've heard about this being an atypical Minnesota winter. Sure, the temperatures have been higher than usual, and the snowfall has been lower. But those are merely the season's exterior trappings.

When you get down to the core of the situation, this winter has demonstrated that most Minnesotan of traits: passive-aggressiveness.

Mother Nature has been messing with our minds from the get-go: It's cold, then it's warm. It snows, but it doesn't stick. It's winter, but it feels like spring.

How are we supposed to make weekend plans in the face of such indecision? Should we get out our ice skates or bicycles? Or should we ride our bicycles over to the neighborhood park to see if the ice is too slushy for hockey? C'mon, Mother Nature: Either do winter or don't.

It's hard for us not to take such an affront personally, said Pete Boulay, assistant state climatologist. And we're not just talking about the skiers, snowmobilers and other snow lovers who have seen their fun melt away.

"It ruins our image," he said. "We can't brag about how tough things are and how we're surviving."

The bottom line is that Minnesotans aren't truly happy during winter unless they're miserable. Boulay even has created his own Misery Index, a winter-ranking system that assigns numerical values to the daily high and low temperatures and the amount of snowfall.

He won't come up with a final index for this winter until spring, but he's not expecting it to come anywhere close to last year's.

"The Misery Index last year was in the 80th percentile," he said. "We haven't been that miserable since 1986."

Of course, things could change. Indeed, the weather mantra among most Minnesotans these days is, "We're gonna pay for this." The scientist in Boulay doesn't necessarily subscribe to that theory, but his Minnesota instincts still have him waiting for the other (snow)shoe to drop.

"There is that feeling that eventually it's going to happen," he conceded.

One warning: There is precedent to support the weather doomsayers.

"The winter of 1877-1878 was even warmer than this," he said. "Then in May it got really cold. It even snowed in May. One thing you realize living here is that the weather can change on a dime."

Syl Jones, political commentator, award-winning playwright and resident wit, recommends therapy for those of us who are struggling to get our heads around this unwinter-like weather.

"Now that nature's growing older, she can't remember how to behave," he said. "We clearly need professional help to deal with her vicissitudes. A good therapist would tell us that it is time to date other winters -- like, perhaps, spend a little time with Cincinnati or Charlotte or maybe even that fascinating but fickle creature, Portland.

"After all, we love Minnesota winter, but we're not married to her. ... Or are we?"

Jeff Strickler • 612-673-7392