The frigid air that has gripped much of Minnesota since early December is making this a winter for the history books.

With the latest string of days with readings below zero at 15 and counting Sunday, forecasters said the metro area only needs to record another handful of such days to claim a place on the list of 10 winters with the most days of subzero temperatures.

The tally of consecutive subzero lows is likely to reach 17 before a slight warming trend begins Wednesday, placing the Twin Cities at a total of 42 days below zero for the winter season. Three days more vault us into the top 10 of total days below zero. The record is 60 days below zero in the winter of 1874-75. The winter of 1936 set the record for consecutive subzero days at 36.

“It’s been cold but not at record levels,” said Rick Hiltbrand, a meteorologist for the Twin Cities office of the National Weather Service. Since the first subzero day on Dec. 7, [-7 degrees] the metro has suffered a “consistent pattern dominated by a jet stream of northerly air flow coming down from the arctic,” he said.

As of Sunday, the metro area had registered the most days below zero in 32 years; and the 13th longest stretch of consecutive subzero low temperatures, Hiltbrand said. A warmer Pacific air pattern is expected to arrive midweek, pushing us into the mid-20s through the weekend.

Although no record cold readings have been posted, temperatures throughout the past two months have been more than 7 degrees colder than average. December’s average temperature was 12.4 degrees and January’s average was 8 degrees. Normal average temps are 19.7 degrees in December and 15.6 degrees in January.

And we’ve racked up 3 inches more snow than usual. Since the first measurable snowfall on Nov. 5, the metro area has collected 39.7 inches, compared to an average of 36.2 inches at this time of year, Hiltbrand said. There doesn’t appear to be much hope — or fear — of beating the record 98.6 inches of snow that fell in the winter of 1983-84.

“It’s just a typical, hardy winter,” Hiltbrand said. He noted fellow forecasters who grew up here say it’s the kind of winter they remember: snowpack on the ground, no wimpy January rainfall or a measly 2 feet of snow as dropped a few winters ago. And there have been some respectable blizzards, like the one two weeks ago with 40-plus mile-an hour-winds that closed roads in much of the state.

We are “definitely experiencing some real winter weather this year,” he said.