At the end of this month, not much more than a week away, the hours of daylight will be about an hour and half longer than they were on the first. The average temperature? That’ll be 10 degrees higher. If you have any doubts that the winter is winding down, look no further than the times of sunrise and sunset, and while you’re at it, check the thermometer. Yes, we’ll have some cold, but overall we’re into the stretch toward spring.
As it stands, we’re looking at less snow on the ground, and less ice on the lakes than would be the norm. Both of those measurements give rise to the feeling that we’ll see an abrupt end to the snow when it does come; there is just not much to withstand a hard thaw. And less ice means the likelihood of an earlier ice-out. This is not to say that any of this is good or bad. Less snow and a shorter winter is easier on deer and other wildlife; less snow and early open water does not bode well to help drive moisture back into the water table, where it can help raise the level of lakes.
For now, our snow sports are a shade precarious, with snowmobile trails in need of more cover and ski trails, while holding up, also getting showing some wear. The snowmobile trails get beat up harder than ski trails, and the lack of new snow in the past month has hurt. Conditions are fair, and riding can still be enjoyable, but exposed and south facing areas are now much more vulnerable to the increased heat of the late winter sun. Snowmo trails will be fair this weekend. We also think that, unless we get snow soon, we’ll see more bare spots.
Cross-country ski trails are covered but thin in spots. Conditions have been good for the most part and we’ve seen an influx of out-of-town skiers in the past few weeks as downstate skiers travel north for much needed snow time before next week’s Birkebeiner. That event will take the lion’s share of attention this week but most skiers in this area will stay close to home and enjoy the trails we have locally. We expect those trails to be in good shape for the most part. New snow is possible and would make things much nicer if it comes. A hard thaw is always possible this time of the year and if one comes in it could do some harm.
Ice fishing slowed the past week and we think that will be the story this week. Longer, warmer days usually bring an improvement in panfish action so keep an eye on the weather. We’re nearing the end of walleye season so don’t wait any longer if that appeals. Walleyes have been slower lately but northern pike continue to be aggressive. Crappies and bluegills have been short of spectacular, but things will get better in the next weeks for both.
All in all we’re in a changeover phase, with one foot firmly in winter, and one edging into very early spring. Weather will drive it all; more snow is likely, but equally so is a rise in temperatures that would do major damage to snow and ice. But if you are a fan of winter sports, you’d best not put things off, as the signs of seasonal change are more apparent every day.
The Outdoor Report is provided by the staff of Mel’s Trading Post in downtown Rhinelander.