Where’s the snow? Winter tourism suffers, and the future looks brown

Where’s the snow? Wintertourism suffers, and the future looks brown

16 February 2007

published by www.startribune.com

Minneapolis, MN, USA — Mike Masso thinks he will look back on the winterof 2006-07 as “probably the worst ever.”The whole state of Minnesotarevolves around snow,” said Masso, a salesman at Waldoch Sports, asnowmobile, motorcycle and all-terrain-vehicle dealer in Forest Lake. “Skiers,snowmobilers, resort owners — they’re dying. A large percentage of ourcustomers will drive to find snow. But most of them are just angry.”

How bare is it?

• The John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon along the North Shore from Duluthto Grand Marais was called off, for the first time in 25 years, for lack of snow.Snowfall in much of the area has been at historic seasonal lows.

• The Twin Cities seasonal snowfall through Wednesday was the third-loweston record, according to the National Weather Service. Tulsa, Okla., has seenmore flakes.

• St. Cloud has received only 6.8 inches of snow all winter — one-fifththe normal amount, according to assistant state climatologist Pete Boulay.Alexandria, in an area dotted with lakes and resorts that attract winterenthusiasts, has had only a trace of precipitation since 2007 began and has theleast snow cover in the state.

Masso and other Minnesotans can blame the conditions on a drought that haspersisted since May and on the jet stream, which has kept snowstorms in a moresoutherly groove this season. Minnesota’s deepest snows, such as they are, havebeen along the Canadian and Iowa borders. Rochester has received 28.6 inches ofsnow, still 7.8 inches below normal but more than double that in the Twin Cities.But Duluth’s 22.8 inches is 35 inches below normal.

Drought officials to meet Thursday

The widespread expanses of brown ground are a mounting concern for farmers,hydrologists, fire watchers and others. In fact, the Minnesota DNR has called ameeting Thursday of the state drought task force, which includes experts inagriculture, forestry, public water use, health, energy, emergency response andother fields. The group met several times last summer.

“We want to be prepared for what might happen if we don’t get additionalprecipitation,” said Jim Japs of the DNR’s waters division.

Japs said that because there has been little precipitation since last fall,he expects the group to resume examining water supplies and the possiblesuspension of some water-use permits around the state, at first for nonessentialuses such as lawn watering and fountains. The agency suspended 80 permits lastsummer; it suspended more than 200 permits in the drought years of 1988 and1989.

Doug Miedtke, a DNR fire management specialist who works out of theInteragency Fire Center in Grand Rapids, said that if the dryness continues, thespring fire season would begin earlier and fires could be more intense.Firefighting problems could be compounded if fires were to penetrate intodrier-than-normal peat soils, he said.

Masso said manufacturer rebates are helping generate snowmobile sales,although his service department is getting little work since nobody’s usingtheir sleds. He echoed Miedtke’s idea that some late-winter snows would ease alot of worries.

“We’re still positive,” he said. “We’re always thinking it’sgoing to snow next week. But that keeps going on and on, and it hasn’t snowedyet.”

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