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Climatologist: Minnesota Winters Are 'Changing Pretty Quickly Before Our Eyes'

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Signs of winter are melting away. The Hennepin County Water Patrol declared an ice-out on Lake Minnetonka Tuesday, so boating season can begin.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources says the warmer, milder winter made popular winter activates dry up early.

Climate experts say winters are evolving. They're trending milder, and that impacts activities and businesses many Minnesotans love, as well as things that are often unseen

It was a memorable yet short ice-fishing season for Dan Wilkie, owner of Shakopee Fishing and Firearms.

"The lakes were really packed with people," Wilkie said. "It took a while to get the ice again. Last year the same thing. It was a short season. This year, you know, we really didn't get going until January."

It is just one of the consequences of Minnesota winters becoming shorter and less cold, according to state climatologist Luigi Romolo.

"Ice-out's probably occurring about three or four days earlier per decade over the last 30 to 40 years," Romolo said.

Melting Snow, Bare Grass in Winter
(credit: CBS)

Kenny Blumenfeld is the DNR's senior climatologist.

"It's not the warmest winter we've ever had, but it fits this pattern of generally-mild winters," Blumenfeld said.

Extreme lows in the Twin Cities have been rising for decades, and experts say overnight average lows just aren't as low.

"We're especially getting warmer during winter when it's the coldest," Blumenfeld said.

Romolo says Minnesota is not going to get as many of the truly frigid days, like residents experienced in mid-February. The snow is still coming, and lot of it – but it's just not sticking around.

"We're seeing more days in winter where we can actually see the grass," Romolo said. "We'll see more mid-winter melts, so more spring-like days in February and late January."

Those melts mess with snow and ice conditions for people who love and rely on winter, like Wilkie.

"If we get into times where we only have six weeks of an ice season, that just, it hurts in a lot of different ways, not just economically," he said.

These are changes that experts say Minnesotans may need to get used to.

"Winter's not going to go away completely, but it is changing pretty quickly before our eyes," Blumenfeld said.

There's more than recreation at risk. Certain Minnesota trees are more susceptible to pests because we don't get those deep freezes to ward off those bugs.

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