The winter without end has ended.

It may not seem like it, with a predicted low temperature of 17 below Saturday night and with snow still up to the windowsills, but March 1 is the first day of meteorological spring. That means that the coldest three calendar months of the year are officially behind us. We’re moving on.

St. Paul will open its hot-mix asphalt plant Tuesday, supplying cities with the stuff they’ll need for what’s expected to be a tough spring pothole season. Naturalist Jim Gilbert reports that he smelled the first skunk of the season last week. Next up? Crocuses, maybe.

Now in the rearview: the fourth snowiest meteorological winter on record in the Twin Cities, the ninth coldest ever and the coldest winter in 36 years.

Assistant state climatologist Pete Boulay noted that while it could have been worse, and has been, the length of time since the last winter this cold means many Minnesotans have never experienced such an arctic season.

“It’s a bigger shock to our system, because we’re not used to a winter like this,” he said.

Karen Kaivola, provost at Augsburg College, moved here last summer from Florida, having never experienced a northern winter. She bought more coats, gloves and hats than she expected to. But the cold she experienced, “was beyond the realm of my imagination,” she said.

“Since this was my first experience of cold to this degree, I have nothing to compare it to,” she said. “I am beginning to have moments when I feel a deep sense of longing when I look out the window, given that this is the best season in Florida for just sitting outside, seeing the green grass and trees.”

It’s also been a learning experience, she said; in the future she’ll make plans to go somewhere warm in February. But she’s also looking forward to spring, whatever that might mean.

“People tell me I have yet to experience the tremendous rush when spring actually does come along — that pleasure after a long winter is unlike anything else, and actually makes the bad weather worthwhile,” she said.

Limited bragging rights

Early “meteorological” spring will continue to bring temperatures below zero, though, possibly pushing the season into third place on the list of subzero days in a Twin Cities winter. Duluth had a record 23 days in a row with a temperature below zero. International Falls and Embarrass both recorded winter-long average temperatures colder than in Fairbanks, Alaska — the first time that’s happened in Minnesota, according to University of Minnesota Extension climatologist Mark Seeley.

The Twin Cities had the deepest snow cover in more than 30 years last week, but in some ways, metro bragging rights were actually limited. A few minor daily snowfall records were set. But not a single daily cold-temperature mark was rewritten. The only temperature record, in fact, was for warmth: a 47-degree high on Dec. 28.

Across the state, unusually deep frost in the ground has caused an epidemic of broken water mains and feeder lines. At Lamberton, in southwest Minnesota, where snow is not as deep as in much of the rest of the state, frost had penetrated 52 inches below the surface by last Monday. That’s the deepest reading in about 40 years of measurements, said Tom Hoverstad, scientist at the U’s Southern Research and Outreach Center at Waseca. It’s much deeper under roads, parking lots and other surfaces without any insulating layer of snow.

Hoverstad said he doesn’t expect a thaw anytime soon, but said history shows frost stops penetrating downward after about the third week in February.

The national Climate Prediction Center sees a strong likelihood that temperatures will be below normal across Minnesota in March, and through all of meteorological spring, which runs to May 31.

But in Wisconsin, catch-and-release trout fishing opens on many streams today. And Three Rivers Parks District is marking the start of spring with a class called, “Spring Flowers: Daffodils.” It’s a painting class, but you get the idea.