Where is winter?

In early January last year, there was no shortage of snow in Birkieland. A thick blanket of snow covered the North Country, so much so that the concern was less about snowcover and more that the lake wouldn’t be frozen because of the insulation above it.

No such worry about the insulation on the lake this year. The real worry is whether it will freeze at all (and whether there will be snow to ski nearby).

We’ve had a good run of Birkie years: aside from 2017, it’s been 15/16 dating back to 2007 for perfect (or darned close) conditions. As global warming has warmed temperatures, colder areas have seen more moisture and temperatures are still cool enough for ample snow. There have always been dry, warm winters. Four of the warmest eight Januaries in Duluth history occurred in the 1800s, as did three of the warmest five Februaries. The trend lines may point up, but there’s a lot of noise.

There are two things to worry about right now. One is ice. Ice conditions right now will barely support anything more than a swimmer, and certainly not a Pisten Bully. Conditions should improve later this week, with cold weather forecast and the potential for some nights and even days well below 0 in the next two weeks. We still may have less-than-ideal ice thickness on the lake, but without much snow it should freeze down quickly and solidly. Cold weather without snow is best for ice, if not for skiing, because there’s no insulation to keep the ice from freezing down.

8 to 14 Day Outlook - Temperature Probability

Below normal temperatures should help with ice formation. The linked photo keeps updating so … it may no longer show those below normal temperatures.

Then there’s snow. Luckily for us, the Birkie isn’t for another 7 weeks or so, and we only need snow a few days before the race. We’d prefer a year like last year with a thaw-proof mat of feet of snow, but it would be nice to build some up in the next few weeks. There are low-snow years with perfectly fine Birkies.

2003 might be a good example. December 2002 was warm and nearly snow-free. Not as warm as this year (especially since it had a cold start) but there was only 1.9″ of snow during the month, and basically no skiing to speak of by the end of the month. December 2003 started out even warmer: January 8 had a high of 51˚ in Hayward! Temperatures did dip below 0˚ on the 11th and every night was below 0˚ for 19 days, freezing everything up but with minimal snowfall, just 5.3″ during the month. February started off with 6.5″ of snow but there was only 1.3″ the rest of the month. Despite a couple of days above freezing, there was enough snow for the Birkie by the end of the month (and a cold Birkie at that, with a low of -7˚ and a high of 15˚; two days later the low was -16˚ and high just 3˚).

The Birkie can manage with very minimal snow. As long as the ground is frozen and there’s no big thaw, lack of snow in January is not the final nail in the coffin for the race. It gives much less leeway for a thaw, however (see 2007 and 2017), so once the lake is frozen, it would be nice to pile a few feet of snow on top!

Weather is happening

Well, not quite yet, but weather is about to hit all of the Upper Midwest. The Birkie Trail should get a few inches of snow today and tonight, wetter and heavier snow that will groom up well, and a few inches of snow on Tuesday night that will be drier and more powdery. If that was all that was coming, we’d declare it perfect to be groomed up before the race.

The main event arrives on Wednesday evening, with an additional foot of snow (or potentially more) falling overnight and into Thursday. This will be drier, colder snow, it will be windy, and the NWS is throwing the “B” word around (blizzard) so expect travel to be difficult. The Birkie will probably push this snow off to the side of the trail and try to groom up some of the denser snow below. But it’s going to be a soft, and slow, Birkie.

Travel impacts are going to be significant. It won’t begin snowing in earnest until later on Wednesday night in Hayward, but snow will begin to the south earlier, and may continue throughout the day on Wednesday (albeit light). The worst travel will be on Wednesday evening and morning and midday Thursday, with heavy snow and strong winds from a Des Moines-Madison line north. Snow will begin to lighten up on Thursday but may continue through the day, with a foot or more in Hayward and up to two feet further south. Driving on Thursday may prove nearly impossible.

Friday looks much better. Cold (very cold overnight) but calm and not precipitating. It may serve skiers well to plan to travel north on Friday morning rather than Thursday, although road crews may have a handle on things on Thursday evening.

For those flying in, Thursday could be a mess. This is an impressive storm, on Wednesday evening impacts should stretch across the country, from Denver to Boston, so flights may not depart on time (or at all). Minneapolis should be able to handle the snow, although storms of this magnitude are rare, and airlines may proactively cancel some flights, especially for aircraft which would spend the night overnight in Minneapolis, in order to give crews the ability to keep the airfield clear. As a Delta hub, most aircraft are already off to other destinations overnight, but I would not be surprised to see significant cancelations on Wednesday evening and Thursday morning: airlines do not like aircraft to be stranded by weather, since that affects schedules downstream as well. By Thursday afternoon, with the snow letting up, I would expect more flights to be operating as the airlines will need to begin to move stranded passengers. If you are flying and want to change your flight, Delta has a change fee waiver up, and other airlines likely have the same.

Note that this storm may be the heaviest snowfall all time in February in Minneapolis, it would have to surpass 13.8″ to make that mark. That occurred February 20 of 2011, which was the Sunday and Monday before Birkie, so it did not affect travel to the race. The 2014 storm did hit Minneapolis solidly, although not as hard as Hayward, and it also hit significantly later in the day on Thursday and into Friday. That storm began in the evening on Thursday in Hayward and continued through midday on Friday, about 24 hours “later” than the current storm. This should be good news for Birkie skiers—the Birkie will have an extra day to do things like plow parking areas—but may mean tricky conditions for those participating in Friday events. So if you’re in the Kortelopet or Prince Haakon, leave a lot of extra time to get to parking areas and onto buses on Friday morning.

It also means that conditions on Friday will likely be very soft; remember that was the year with very slow conditions for most skiers. It will be cold overnight on Thursday, and the Birkie groomers will probably try to plow off new snow and pull up old ice to mix in and freeze down, but there’s only so much they can do in 18 hours before the race. For Saturday, the extra day should be helpful for the groomers to plow and compact the snow, but I would still expect the course to be soft, especially as more skiers ski over it. The extra day of compaction by skiers and groomers south of OO may lead to improved conditions for the second half of the race.

Safe travels, and stay tuned for updates here and on the podcast!

Who is ready for a snowy Thursday?

It’s becoming clearer that is what we’re going to get.


Here are the last two days of runs of the GFS model. Except for the first run, which is now two days old, every run shows a foot of snow falling in Hayward (if you want to find Hayward, it’s not marked here, but if you use the latitude and longitude as guides, it’s at about 91˚W and 46˚N. And these are 10-to-1 snow ratio, with colder snow, it might be more. So while the snow right now is hard and icy, there’s some powder incoming. If the snow holds off just long enough, the fastest time of Birkie Week might be on Open Track day. This may be a high bias, but several inches of snow appears more and more likely.

The timing is actually quite good. For people headed to Hayward for the Open Track, the snow should start midday, so shouldn’t impact travel too much, although travel may become difficult on Wednesday evening. Then, the heaviest of the snow should be mostly done by Thursday morning, so Thursday events should be able to go off as planned (although maybe with a lot of snow) while giving the groomers enough time to groom (or plow) the trail for the next two days of racing. By Saturday, the trail will have had enough passes to dredge up some old, frozen snow, mix it with the powder and till it all together.

The only issues? It could be mighty cold. The GFS may be overblown, but it has it at -20˚ overnight before both days of racing, with highs barely cracking zero. So, get that face tape out and, gents, don’t forget your wind briefs!

Weather Speculation (and podcast updates!)

It’s 240 hours until the Birkie, meaning we have deterministic runs of the three major global weather models (the GFS, the ECMWF and the Canadian, which you can view at TropicalTidbits, PivotalWx, College of DuPage or elsewhere). So what’s in store for the next 10 days and race day? Let’s take a quick baseline survey:

The GFS has been bullish with a snowstorm for next Thursday. The last several model runs have printed out 10+ inches of snow in Hayward between now and race day, most of it on that Thursday, which would be a good time for it to occur, frankly, between the Open Track and the races, and clearing out with enough time to plow it out of the way where needed (including, probably, on the hardpack race trail, leaving some to be renovated into the existing snow).

This is hardly a given, though: the European model (ECMWF) has a lighter storm on Thursday, with maybe 4 to 6 inches of snowfall. And the Canadian has just a light snowfall grazing Birkieland on Tuesday, otherwise, it’s NO SNOW FOR YOU. That seems like a pretty reasonable forecast right now, between 1 and 11 inches of snow in the next 10 days.

Then on to race days. For the Friday races, there is pretty good agreement that temperatures may only be around 10˚ for afternoon highs. Saturday looks warmer, in the teens or maybe even 20s, after a cold start. The models suggest that the coldest air will be sitting a few hundred miles west, with some showing -30˚ temperatures over the Dakotas, and the February sun may be shrouded behind some mid and upper level clouds, but it does not appear to be too windy. So not the 30˚ and sunny finishes of 2020 and 2022, but not too brutally cold, either.

All this can and will change, and we’ll keep track here daily (or so).

We will also have a weather podcast next week, so look for that to come out on Monday or Tuesday. We just posted a podcast with Earth Rider Brewery (the official beer of the Birkie!) and have recorded an episode with Birkie staff which should post later this week. Then we may have a Friday podcast from the Media Center, and, of course, look for me out on Main Street, the Lake, or the Moccasin (somewhat weather dependent) on Saturday!

Weather Speculation: Rain (!), then colder

It’s never good to have to write abound rain on the Birkie Trail. But unlike some other rainy years (well, really just one) there’s really not too much to worry about the current rainstorm headed to Hayward.

The details: it’s going to rain. The Birkie Trail has not received much in the way of precipitation in the past month, so there’s a deep, but old, snowpack for the rain to fall onto. The good news? The temperature during this rain event will only be in the mid-30s to low 40s, so what falls will not eat into and melt too much snow. It’s not optimal, but as far as a major rainstorm 10 days before race day it’s about as good an outcome as we can expect (for instance, the National Weather Service doesn’t have any flood advisories, so they’re not expecting a significant meltdown). Still, there may be some minor flooding and ponding at low spots on the trail, which would require a bit of time to drain off. If you’re skiing this weekend expect old, frozen snow.

What happens then? It appears to get colder. 


For the period covering Birkie week, there will be below normal temperatures for the western half of the country, with Northwest Wisconsin in the cold side. The weather service says that after the potential for some light snow this weekend, “Looking further ahead, ensemble climate guidance suggests a below normal temperature period mid next week, with a slight risk for much below normal temperatures Feb 22-24 across the region.” There are some storms which may slide through the region as well, so there is the possibility for new snow before the race.

In a couple of days we will be within 240 hours of the race, meaning that the US, Canadian and European models will all be giving us updates every 6 or 12 hours about race day temperatures and weather. Currently I’d bet on a colder-than-average race, potentially with start temperatures around 0 and only warming into the teens, not the 30s we’ve enjoyed for the past couple of Main Street finishes. But no big warm ups on the horizon, so I won’t complain too much.


Need a place to stay for the Birkie?

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The house is huge, sleeps up to 22 people, and located 10 minutes from Downtown Hayward out by Round Lake. You can book at AirBNB or VRBO, of course, or use the “contact us” link on their website to save on booking fees. If you are interested please let them know you found out about it on BirkieGuide.com!

Screen Shot 2023-02-11 at 20.56.26

What the what?

It’s 50˚ in Cable.

Screen Shot 2023-02-08 at 15.39.00Please don’t panic. Too much.

There’s plenty of snow in Birkieland and warm, dry, calm weather won’t do much to it. Four main factors determine snowmelt: temperature, sun, wind and humidity. A day like today has two of them, but the dry air should inhibit some melting and without a strong breeze the cold snow should keep the air at the surface cold as well. Here are a couple of explainers about this process.

With a bit more than two weeks before the race, it would be disconcerting if it was going to be 50˚ and sunny every day before the race (and that might be high; Hayward airport is only reporting 44˚). It is also dropping into the 20s or colder overnight; it was 13˚ last night in Hayward,  meaning the snowpack further down will stay cold. Plus, the groomed Birkie Trail is compacted enough that it takes a lot to actually melt the already-groomed snow.

It’s possible that in some cases, the south-facing hills could begin to get a bit thin, but the Birkie can probably move snow there if needed. Another concern would be high flows in the Namekagon thinning out the lake, but days like today if the surface melts, it won’t have time to percolate through the snowpack and feed streams and rivers before refreezing (or evaporating, or sublimating). So don’t get too concerned. Yet.

Longer-term forecasts show more bend-but-don’t-break weather for Birkieland. Mostly dry and warmer than average, but only into the 30s during the day most days, with colder nights. Unless a major rainstorm or a real spell of hot weather shows up—neither appears in the forecast—Birkie weather watches should be able to breathe rather easily. For now.

2023 Unofficial Guide updates

New year, new updates to the Unofficial Guide. No major changes but some updates, and fleshing out some thoughts about feeds and hydration especially.

The Guide will be updated as needed, especially with trail closure information as we get closer to the race, although with the deep base this year, trail closures may not be as drastic as some recent years.

Also, a new podcast just dropped, stay tuned for more!

What happens when it rains in California

The weather headline this winter has been the rain in California. A month of rain has added water to reservoirs, snow to the mountains, and mud to places it is not supposed to be. But what happens in California doesn’t necessarily stay in California, and the atmospheric river pushing into California has resulted in some interesting weather in the Midwest: wet and warm.

Notably, the City of Lakes Loppet’s Luminary event has been pushed back, because the heavy, wet snow and lack of cold air has kept the lakes from freezing as solid as they usually do (whether the City of Lakes Loppet will be able to cross the lakes in a few weeks is still an open question). Closer to home, the Birkie needs to cross the final two miles of Lake Hayward to reach Main Street, and if the ice is thin, the race can not fully take place. The race has been shortened to OO twice (2007 and 2017), but several more times it has not crossed the lake, including four times between 1983 and 1991.

Most of these years have been due to a lack of snow on the latter portion of the course, with races ending (or, in some cases, starting, since the course changed direction in those days) at Duffy’s or Rosie’s field. In most of those cases, the winters were warm and dry, and a warmup later in the season led to a lack of snow. 1983 had more snow, but a warm February appears to have affected ice on the lake, which may never have thickened below a thick blanket of snow.

In recent memory (the past 25 years), there have been five cancelations:

  • 1998: A warm February leads to a short course.
  • 2000: A warm and rainy end of the month cancels the race
  • 2002: A warm, dry month ends with enough rain to shorten the race
  • 2007: A couple of warm days and low snowfall creates the half-length open-track rock ski race
  • 2017: A warm spell and rain cancel the race

Since the first Birkie, San Francisco has gone over 30 inches of rain in 1973, 1978, 1982, 1983, 1997 and 2017. Of these, six years, three correlate to some sort of Birkie disruption. So there appears to be some correlation between heavy rain in the Pacific and Birkie disruptions. In this year’s case, the warm Pacific air has led to plentiful snow in the Northwoods with warm temperatures. And while snow is good, we’ve had perfectly good Birkies in years like 2012 and 2015 with lower snowfall.

What do I take from this, reading tea leaves a few weeks from the race? Right now, cold is more important than snow. The dense snowpack should be able to withstand all but the worst meltdown. More snow? Sure. But it would be better to freeze up the base and freeze up the lake rather than having to worry about snowmelt and ice. At least the current outlooks call for some colder weather building across the country (less of a polar vortex outbreak and more of a lasting cold) which might be enough to push through the lake snow cover and freeze things down.