By the middle of a typical April, dandelions are showing their yellow faces, most of the snow has melted.

But this is not a typical April.

While the ice was off Fishhook Lake by April 7 last year, this year it's anyone's guess.

"In general, this winter has been significantly colder than the past two winters," said Brittany Peterson of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "The last winter that was this cold or colder was the winter of 2013-2014."

Peterson said Monday that one good indicator of how cold it has been so far in Park Rapids in 2018 is the number of days above 50 degrees so far, which is zero.

"In 2017, Park Rapids had seen 22 days above 50 degrees by April 15, and two days above 70 degrees as well," she said. "The last day Park Rapids saw 50 degrees was November 27, 2017."

Many high school teams are holding practices indoors and spring sporting events are being postponed or canceled due to snow-covered fields, tracks and golf courses.

The cold spring is also costing residents and businesses money as heating bills remain high. Seasonal businesses like resorts and those putting in docks will have a shorter season.

"Despite the chilling start to spring, there is still hope for warmer weather ahead," Peterson said. ""The number of daylight hours is continuing to increase, allowing for sunshine fo melt snow more quickly during the days, and the high temperature for Park Rapids could finally reach 50 degrees on Friday."

Mahube sees increase in crisis requests

The longer winter has meant higher energy costs. Janice Renner, energy assistance coordinator for Mahube-Otwa, said it's not too late for people to apply for help.

She said their service area saw a nine percent increase in applications this year. Last year, the average primary heating grant was $700, and this year it was $724.

Renner explained that due to the price of propane being higher this year and the extended winter, more people have run out of funding. Crisis funds may be applied for once the primary heat grant has been used up.

Mahube-Otwa has experience an increase in crisis requests.

"Last year, crisis households served as of April 16 were 1,483 and this year it is 2,100," she said. "Let's say you received a $1,400 grant and it went all to your propane vendor and now it's April and all of your monies have been spent. If you're at less than 20 percent (of a full tank), you could call and request additional assistance. Also if you get a disconnect notice as long as there are funds available you could request additional funding."

However, she noted that Mahube-Otwa has not received any additional funding from the state to help people with the added energy expenses.

Energy assistance awards are based on a funding formula from the government. "It's a federal program designed to help the lowest income residents with the highest energy burden," she said. "It's not too late to apply, but I would encourage people to apply right away. The deadline is May 31, but we don't know how long the funding is going to last."

Renner explained that, even if a person applied this fall and were told they didn't qualify because they were over-income for the past three months, they should contact their energy assistance worker if their circumstances have changed. For instance, if they had been working full-time in the three months prior to their application in November but were laid off in January, they could now qualify.

"Once they've applied, we can do a new signature page and re-activate their application," she said.

She encouraged people to check out the income guidelines online or stop in the office.

"I feel like there are people out there, like seniors who get Social Security and think they will be over-income, but most of them are not," she said. "We don't look at assets like owning a home. It's strictly income."

Another benefit that Renner said many people are not aware of is assistance with furnace replacement and repairs for those who qualify. "You have to be a homeowner with documentation to verify home ownership," she said. Last year at this time, they had helped 301 households at a cost of $152,000 and this year that number has risen to 353 households helped at a cost of $218,000.

The cold weather rule (Oct 1-April 15) has been lifted, so agency staff are no longer on call evenings and weekends.

"If it's an emergency and life-threatening, like carbon monoxide, and they need someone to check their furnace right away, then I would encourage them to call right away and leave a message on our voicemail so we know that they had a crisis and addressed it," she said. "We'll respond the next business day."

For an energy assistance application or more information on the prog, call 732-7204 Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. or go to www.mahube.org.

Fish, spawning and migration impacted

Doug Kingsley, area fisheries supervisor with the Department of Natural Resources in Park Rapids, said this long winter has impacted fish survival and spawning.

"We monitor oxygen on some of the lakes that have a history of winter fish kills and some are looking pretty rough, especially in the northern part of the county and in small, shallow lakes," he said. "It's mostly due to how long they've been covered with ice and snow."

He said spawning is about two weeks behind schedule.

"The way things are going, we may be pretty busy with taking eggs and in the hatchery in the middle of May," he said.

While a few migrating birds are returning to the area, Kingsley said migration has been delayed for birds that need open water.

"I think we've picked up a few more geese, and we're starting to see some ducks but it's not like normal for this time of year," he said.

Resorts and other businesses affected

"I've visited with resorters, which is a very important part of tourism here. The longer the winter hangs o it gives them a shorter period of time to get opened up, so they're a little bit behind," said Park Rapids Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce director Butch De La Hunt. "Greenhouses, for example, have extended heating bills. That's quite an expense for them."

He said he hasn't received much feedback from golf courses, "but my guess is they're going to be in a crunch mode, too, because I would suspect about this time last year we were already golfing."

"It's going to put a shorter window for our docks and lifts and boating and marine industries to get their stuff put in the hundreds of lakes that are in the area, so that's a real big crunch for them because as soon as the lakes open up everyone wants their equipment in the water and that's going to take some time," he continued, adding ATV trails will also probably open up late.

De La Hunt said that while the late spring will have an impact on the local economy in the short-term, "once it does open up, everyone will be itching pretty bad to go fishing, and let's hope that's what comes to play, and maybe we can have a very nice summer once it decides to show up."

"Their wallets might stay a little thicker a little longer, but eventually when they get that opportunity to fish we hope that the weather turns around quickly and the fishing is really good," he said. "The resorters report lots of people are booking for the summer, so that's encouraging. Even though it's been a long winter, I think when it does open up it will be gangbusters."

Warm up forecast for mid-May

There is light at the end of the tunnel for those who are starting to wonder if this winter weather will ever end.

According to Brad Hopkins, meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Grand Forks, North Dakota, it's not just our imagination that it has been a long winter.

"It had been 140-plus days since it had been 50 degrees, but more normal temperatures are forecast for the second half of May and into June," he said.

"Looking at the trends with ocean currents and what's happening in upper levels of the atmosphere, we should see more neutral conditions as the La Niña conditions weaken," he said. "Everybody's getting 'spring fever' and it's kind of frustrating because people want to get outdoors and tend to their gardens and stuff like that."

The La Niña weather pattern refers to the cold phase of El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO), where lower surface temperatures in the central Pacific Ocean impact global weather and climate.

Hopkins said the average high this time of year in our area is 53 to 54 degrees. By the end of the month, that climbs to 61 degrees, and by the fishing opener on May 12 to 66 degrees."

Long-range forecasts for the second half of April show slightly below normal to near normal temperatures.

"Indications are that after that we'll see another system come across and drive the temperatures down again," he said. "Looking at the new experimental three- to four-week outlook, it's still showing a general trend of staying below average, but we should start to see things make a switch deeper into May."

He said models forecast 10 days out with "reasonable accuracy."

"When you're looking further out what you're doing is analogs, asking if we've seen this before," he said. "We had another La Niña year back in 2014, and it took a long time for the ice to get off because that was another really cold spring. Because La Niña is still impacting us, that's why we're seeing the colder than normal temperatures."

As far as precipitation goes, Hopkins said right now the general trend for the next month is to be drier than normal. "If that's the case as our temperatures go up, less precipitation means we should see more melting off and see the snow pack disappear," he said. "Rain and wind also have a melting effect on the snowpack and affect ice-off."