Despite warm temperatures, winter still holding on

Chunks of ice float down the main channel of the Mississippi River on Wednesday. Unseasonably warm temperatures are expected to continue into next week. It is still too early to speculate when the river will be open for barge traffic, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Peter Thomson, La Crosse Tribune

Temperatures may be pushing 60 this weekend, but that won’t put the kibosh on skiers looking to enjoy the last weeks of winter.

The National Weather Service is predicting that the warm temperatures the region has been experiencing will continue into the middle of next week or longer with sunshine most days except maybe Monday. Despite the balmy weather, businesses that are affected by Mother Nature including skiing and golfing will still have at least a few more weeks of winter conditions.

Darcie Breidel, the general manager at Mount La Crosse, said the resort was done making snow for the season but had made enough earlier to get through the warm temperatures. All of the slopes were still open, she said, and Mt. La Crosse was expecting more than 400 high school athletes and their families this weekend for the Wisconsin State High School Ski & Snowboard Championships.

“The skiing is great for a lot of people,” she said. “We have pleasant temperatures and plenty of sunshine.”

In the long-term, Breidel was nervous as the weather forecast is predicting things to be more like March than February. NWS meteorologist Andrew Just said temperatures during the next week will be at least 20 degrees warmer than average and that could cut short Mt. La Crosse’s season.

On the other hand, The Bridges Golf Club Manager Blake Westerberg said there was still plenty of snow on the ground in Winona and it would be at least a few weeks before the courses would be able to open. Westerberg said golf clubs tend to open for the season around April 1 in Minnesota.

Even though things weren’t open yet, Westerberg said warm weather always gets people interested in spring and club members were making inquiries about renewing their membership. While he said he hopes the course could open within the first couple of weeks in March if the weather cooperates, he also recognized Minnesota weather has a way of being unpredictable.

“We always pray for an early open,” he said. “But you never know. We opened last season on March 17 — then had to close again after the snowstorm.”

When the Mississippi River will open for the shipping season is also up in the air, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Public Affairs Specialist George Stringham said. Staff members were out on Lake Pepin Wednesday measuring ice thickness.

According to the numbers posted on the Corps’ website, many of the mile markers sampled reported no ice while more than half reported ice thicknesses between seven and 17 inches. Shippers prefer the ice to be thinner than a foot before they try to break their way through, he said, so it could be several weeks before barge traffic starts making its way up. The earliest the first towboat has made its way up to Hastings, Minn., in the past five years was March 9 in 2012, he said, and the latest was April 8 in 2013.

“It’s too early to speculate when things will open up,” Stringham said. “Even with the gorgeous weather.”

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Nathan Hansen has been the Education Reporter for the Tribune since 2014. Prior to that, he covered education, agriculture and business topics for the Winona Daily News. He is always on the lookout for news tips and can be contacted at 608-791-8234.

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