In a Place Famous for Winter, 'What If Winter Never Comes?'

Life is currently 'unrecognizable' in Wisconsin's Northwoods, where snow and ice have been sparse
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 1, 2024 1:50 PM CST
Upper Midwest Counts Cost of 'Lost Winter'
Stock photo of a not-very-snowy Wisconsin.   (Getty Images/Jacob Boomsma)

Maple sugaring season has kicked off early in Wisconsin's Northwoods—great news for pancake lovers, but not-so-great news for this area and other parts of the Upper Midwest that are experiencing what the Washington Post calls a "lost winter."

  • What's going on: Warmer-than-usual temps in Wisconsin (temps in the high 50s in late February, per Sierra), Minnesota, and Michigan are keeping the ground and waterways relatively free of snow and ice, in a region normally known for being a "winter playground," per the Post. "There's been no good reason to come north," the owner of a local trading post tells the paper.
  • What's affected: Hotels, restaurants, and hospitality, which have lost up to 80% of their usual winter sales, per the head of a local chamber of commerce; winter sports, especially skiing, ice fishing, and snowmobiling; and the aforementioned maple sugaring, which started its season extra early in January in the Northwoods. "Maple runs require a specific range of temperatures (days around 40 degrees Fahrenheit and nights below freezing), so they're vulnerable to shifts in winter weather," notes WUWM.
  • The cause: "The one-two punch of ... El Nino and climate change," the outlet reports, with icy Arctic air that normally would drift south to the US stuck up north. Snowfall is at less than half the normal amount this winter in Wisconsin and Minnesota, per stats from the Midwest Regional Climate Center. The season is "on track to be Wisconsin's warmest winter ever."
  • Assistance: More than a dozen tourism groups are now reaching out to the state of Wisconsin for help, with one seven-county region said to have lost $6.5 million in revenue in December and January due to a snow dearth. "Our businesses are terrified," Krystal Westfahl of the Let's Minocqua Visitors Bureau tells WPR.
  • Locals' reaction: "Everyone's trying to smile and keep upbeat," ski pro Dan Clausen tells the Post, which calls the current landscape "unrecognizable." "Right now, it's not too fun being here."
(More Wisconsin stories.)

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