February thaw: Warm weather requires adjustments
Winter is far from over, but this week's thaw has brought problems to some and celebration to others.
"I wouldn't say it's unusual," said Ed Thompson, student intern at the National Weather Service in Grand Forks, N.D. "Every once in a while, you get this little melting pattern."
Homeowners are concerned about the effects of ice dams on their roofs. The build up if ice and snow along the eaves and gutters can trap melt water and cause leaky roofs. Ace on the Lake and L&M Supply both have stocked Roof Melt Tablets. These cost about $20 for a bucket full and look like hockey pucks made of ice-melting chemicals. The idea is to toss them up onto the roof and melt the ice dams. Some people have reported good luck with the material, but at least one person said the melting caused her roof to leak.
In any case, both Ace and L&M Supply are sold out of the tablets. Ace employees said they expect to restock Friday, but an L&M warehouse employee said she didn't think she would receive another shipment. She said she had heard the manufacturer couldn't keep up with demand because of all the snowstorms in the East and Midwest.
A homemade strategy for melting a channel for water to flow through the ice dams involves cutting the legs off pantyhose, filling them with salt or some other ice melt chemical and laying them on the eaves.
The weather also has prompted the closure of the Nymore and Bemidji City Park's warming houses and outdoor rinks for the season.
Organizers of two big area winter events scheduled for the weekend - Minnesota Finlandia Ski Marathon at Buena Vista Ski Area and International Eelpout Festival on Leech Lake near Walker - said the thaw and refreeze suits them.
"The warm weather has made the ice travel easier this week," said Jim Gurchy, Eelpout Festival promoter. "The snowpack is much reduced. The forecast couldn't be more perfect for the weekend with highs in the mid-20s with sunshine."
Any warmer, he said, and conditions get wet and messy.
Pickups and other large vehicles are allowed on the lake before 8 a.m. Friday, Feb. 18. Those who choose to set up their fish houses and camps after 8 a.m. Friday must use snowmobiles or class 1 or 2 ATVs. No cars or trucks will be allowed on the ice between 8 a.m. Friday and 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 20, by decree of the Cass County Sheriff's Office.
"Your fish house can stay on the lake, but your vehicle has to come off," he said.
Gurchy, who has organized the Eelpout Festival for the last 10 years, said the city of Walker has plowed off-ice parking spaces to accommodate visitors and participants, and volunteers on snowmobiles and ATVs with sleds will be at the access helping people move their outfits to their camping spots.
"We recommend that you set-up close to shore near the Walker City Park, where we have plowed access roads and camp areas," Gurchy said.
Also, Northern Lights Casino has a shuttle bus for visitors to hitch a ride to town or the casino.
Gurchy said the warm weather has also stirred up the spawning eelpouts, so fishing should be good.
"This year will go down in history - 'I survived Eelpout 2011.' Adapt and overcome, hardy pouters!"
In some of the 30 years the Minnesota Finlandia cross-country ski races have been run, snow cover had been skimpy. Volunteers had to import snow from area lakes and shovel it onto the trails. And one year there just wasn't any snow to be had. Organizers dubbed the event the "Footlandia," and people walked the course.
Organizer Mike Huerbin said no one was happy about that. From then on, he said, they decided they would cancel if there was no snow.
But this year, conditions are excellent, he said.
"We have so much snow out there, we really needed some warm weather to set up the track," said Huerbin. "We've got equipment that renovates this stuff. We'll probably be grooming right up until the event."
As of Tuesday, he said 150 skiers have registered for the races, far more than usual.
"Most of our registrations come the night of (Finlandia eve)," he said. "They're coming in from all over the nation."
So far, he said the only registrants from outside the United States are from Canada, but international entries are common.
Registration and bib pick-up runs from 4:30-9 p.m. Friday, Feb. 18, with a $9 spaghetti feed at Keg N Cork from 5:30-8:30 p.m. Walk-on registration is available at 8 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 19, at the Buena Vista Chalet. The Buena Vista Classic 25k Pursuit starts at 10 a.m.; the Minnesota Finlandia 50k and Bemidjithon 25k starts at 10:30 a.m.; and the Bryce Ronnander Memorial 10k starts at 10:35 a.m. The awards ceremony will be held at 4 p.m. Saturday at Bemidji High School.
"We're having a great winter," Huerbin said.