December 2013 went down in the books as the seventh-coldest Brainerd lakes area December on record — and those records go back to 1898.
The average temperature between Dec. 1 and Christmas was just 3.9 degrees.
Meteorologist Kevin Kraujalis from the National Weather Service (NWS) office in Duluth said this winter has also been unusually snowy. In the first 25 days of December, the Brainerd area saw 21.8 inches of snow. That’s second only to December 2008, which leads the record books with 23.8 inches of snow.
Kraujalis said that while the area has received that much snow, it looks like less on the ground because it’s either compacted or some of the snow has sublimated and evaporated.
The snowy conditions are conducive to cold, Kraujalis said, which is one reason why temperatures have been so low.
“Usually when you get a pretty good snowpack in December, cold air masses like the big snowpacks so it’s a decent sign that you’ll have some cold outbreaks at least,” Kraujalis said.
He said the outlook for January is still average, though, meaning it’s not predicted to be any colder or warmer than past Januarys.
Missy Best, Mount Ski Gull director of operations, said that despite cold temperatures, skiers and tubers are still out and the hill is seeing good traffic.
“People know to dress warm,” Best said. “We even had people out from Georgia and they were absolutely having the best time of their life.”
Mount Ski Gull does have to close if the wind chill or air temperature drops to 20 below zero or colder, Best said, which has forced closure a couple of days so far this season. First and foremost it’s a safety precaution, but additionally the equipment doesn’t run as well in extreme cold temperatures.
Best said Mount Ski Gull has a great base of snow at 24-36 inches, between the snow that fell naturally and the snow that’s been made.
On the possible down side of the cold, propane has been in high demand and short supply since fall, and with cold temperatures expected to last there’s no sign of where prices will end up before spring.
Cheryl Hamline, secretary at Northern Star Co-op in Backus, said shortages in propane while farmers were trying to dry their corn followed by the temporary shutdown of a major supply pipeline have caused prices this season to rise from $1.59 to $2.34 per gallon. Last year the peak of prices reached $2.04.
“I think this is our ninth raise that we’ve had and now it’s $2.34,” Hamline said.
The propane shortage was immediately noticeable at propane plants through the area.
“Two weeks ago, on the 14th, they said there were 27 propane trucks in line for our plant,” Hamline said.
The long cold snap that hit the area has also contributed to increased propane demand. Hamline said rapid temperature changes can cause building materials to expand or contract unevenly, creating gaps where heat can escape and cold air can come in.
Northern Star trucks are constantly busy with deliveries.
“Last year it was busy but we weren’t as far behind as we are. Every day the phone rings a lot. We get a lot of people calling in, and last year they would call in at 30 percent and we’d have a little leeway for getting to them, and people are checking their tanks and saying, ‘Oh, we’re down to 10 percent.’ They’re going through more fuel because it’s been colder,” Hamline said.
On Dec. 24 the company shipped 4,100 gallons of propane on one truck, 5,380 gallons on another, and 2,165 gallons on a third truck. They had to refill part way through the day, and Hamline said if they worked 24 hours a day they had enough orders to more than double the amount of gas delivered.
Smaller scale propane sales such as those at Godfrey’s Family Foods in Backus are on the rise as well, though not for reasons you might expect.
“Very few are to fish houses versus last year because very few houses are actually out. The ice conditions are really hard to get a house out on the lake now. They are pretty slushy,” said co-owner Wayne Godfrey. “We had a lot for deer stands. A lot more guys heated their deer stands than they used to. So that was really good in November. A lot of people, surprisingly, are using it for heating. Fuel has gotten so high that they can’t always afford to fill the 500-gallon tank at once so they’ll do a 100-pounder instead.”
If temperatures rise in the area enough to clear snow off the lakes and a cold snap follows to freeze the lakes all over again, then propane sales might increase even more for use in fish houses. Until then, Godfrey said the store is having a hard time keeping Muck boots in stock, as slush on the lakes is almost a foot deep in many places.