Spring outlook: Normal temperatures for Northland, above-normal precipitation for Great Lakes

Look beyond the tall piles of snow and teeth-rattling cold, and real spring is on the way. At least that's what the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Thursday, in forecasting normal temperatures during April, May and June for t...

Heidi Nessa of Hermantown passes a big puddle as she walks part of the Munger Trail in Duluth's Riverside neighborhood in March 2010. Near-normal temperatures and above-normal precipitation are forecast for the Northland in spring 2013. (Bob King /

Look beyond the tall piles of snow and teeth-rattling cold, and real spring is on the way.

At least that's what the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Thursday, in forecasting normal temperatures during April, May and June for the Northland.

Most of Minnesota and Wisconsin are at the northern edge a large pool of expected warmer-than-normal conditions that cover much of the nation for the next three months. The only areas expected to be normal or colder than normal are the northern Great Plains and Pacific Northwest.

The Northland is in a small wedge of territory with little variation from normal expected.

"We've been experiencing an unusually cold pattern with the jet (stream) far south of normal. But as the sun gets higher in the sky, sooner or later that's got to stop," said Ed O'Lenic, chief of operations for the National Climate Prediction Center, during a telephone news conference Thursday.


As the jet stream moves north into Canada, that allows warmer air patterns to move into the Upper Midwest, eventually melting our snowpack and giving relief after a colder-than-normal March.

The longer-term forecast, from May into July, shows the Northland moving into the warmer-than-normal area.

Forecasters said they look at current trends as well as snowpack, stream flow, Pacific Ocean temperatures and other factors in predicting the weather trend for the next three months. Water temperatures in the northern Pacific Ocean support a relatively warm pattern for the next few months, O'Lenic said, even though the larger El Nino Pacific warming is not occurring.

Forecasters also are predicting a wetter-than-normal calendar spring for the Great Lakes region, good news for water levels that, for some lakes, have been near record-low levels. O'Lenic said there is a 40 percent chance of above-normal rain in coming months.

The National Drought Monitor is showing improving conditions in 2013 for all of Minnesota, Wisconsin and parts of the Dakotas, thanks to more rain than last year. Nationally, winter snows and rains have helped bring the portion of the nation in moderate or more severe drought from nearly two-thirds to about 51 percent, officials said Thursday.

Ironically, while much of the Great Plains, southern Rockies and southwest remain in an entrenched severe drought, late-winter snows have rapidly increased the odds of flooding, especially along the Red River of North Dakota and Minnesota, where there's a better than 50 percent chance of moderate or worse flooding once again this year.

In the Northland, there is a less-than-50 percent chance of any flooding on the lower St. Louis or upper Mississippi rivers, although the Mississippi could cause problems farther south, in southern Wisconsin and Illinois, forecasters said.

"This outlook reminds us of the climate diversity and weather extremes we experience in North America, where one state prepares for flooding while neighboring states are parched, with no drought relief in sight," said Laura Furgione, deputy director of NOAA's National Weather Service


Locally, March has been the first significantly colder-than-normal month in several years, 5 degrees below normal in Duluth so far. Daily high temperatures have been about 10 degrees below normal and the average lows have been about 12 degrees off the "normal" temperatures averaged over the past 30 years.

This March probably has seemed so cold in part because last March was so off-the-charts good -- if you like warm, sunny weather. In fact, March this year probably won't even break into the Top 10 coldest or snowiest on record in Duluth.

March 2012 was a staggering 13.3 degrees warmer than normal, a variation from the usual temperature that is almost never seen. That difference meant shorts and T-shirts at this time last year, while this year we've seen winter storm warnings, wind-chill advisories and below-zero morning lows.

There are still 22 inches of snow on the ground in Duluth, the most since January 2011, and a whopping 29 inches on the ground now in International Falls. Duluth has seen 78.3 inches of snow so far this season, a few inches above normal and on course to match or top the 80-inch normal for an entire season, which ends sometime in May.

Short term, the National Weather Service in Duluth is forecasting a slow warm-up to normal temperatures -- highs in the mid- to upper 30s by next week, with no major snowstorms in the near-term forecast.

John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at
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