CHICAGO — The snowshoes are in the closet, ice fishermen are lingering at the sides of slushy lakes, and at least one snow sculpting event was, quite literally, a washout.
Unseasonably warm weather and a lack of snow in parts of the country that usually are covered in white this time of year have wreaked havoc with winter recreation events.
Temperatures as high as 50 degrees around Chicago — where it is usually closer to 30 in January — forced the postponement of Fran Volz’s popular Snow Visions sculpting contest in suburban Schaumburg this coming weekend. He rescheduled for Feb. 11.
“When we were shooting the snow gun, all that came down was water,” Volz said. “We just had water all over the parking lot.”
Organizers of the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race in Alaska and Canada may have to send the race participants on a detour or give them a lift by truck for only the third time in the event’s 23-year history.
“There’s definitely not as much snow as we would like for the race,” said media coordinator Jennifer Gavin. The 1,000-mile race runs from Fairbanks, Alaska, to Whitehorse, Yukon, in Canada.
‘Bummed out’ fishermen
The warm weather is also putting a damper on winter sports in the Northern Plains, where temperatures have been 15 to 20 degrees above normal for at least the past two weeks.
“The fishermen are all bummed out,” said Steve Crandall, manager at Turtle River State Park in Arvilla, N.D. Ice fishermen have not been able to safely drive their trucks on the ice or build ice houses.
The cold weather season got off to a robust start, with low temperatures and heavy snowstorms across the country in late November and early December. But because of the warm weather of late, the snow did not stick around.
“The general weather conditions have pretty much done a flip-flop,” said Tom Niziol, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Buffalo, N.Y. “Typically, we’d have a foot and a half to two feet of snow in some of our snowbelt areas, and we’re essentially seeing no snow cover across the western part of New York state, and that is exceptional this time of year.”
In Illinois, warm weather led to the cancellation of cross-country skiing and snowshoeing events at the regional Special Olympics. Instead, a lottery was held to decide which 75 athletes would advance to the statewide competition.
‘Fairly mild’ forecast
Forecasters are not expecting conditions to change any time soon.
“Things still look to be fairly mild next week, even into two weeks,” said Mike Halpert, head of forecasting for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s climate prediction center. “We don’t see the return of that arctic air.”
The warm spell is not all negative: Warmer temperatures typically mean lower heating bills and easier travel.
And despite the lack of snow for sledding and skiing, Crandall said his North Dakota park is seeing more people than usual, drawn by the relatively balmy weather.
“Low 20s, early 30s feels pretty darn good when the sun’s shining,” Crandall said. “If we had the snow we’d really be doing gangbusters business.”
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