Back Home: A strange spring indeed

By Chris Hardie
Posted 3/27/24

One of the benefits of starting my seventh decade of life in Wisconsin is experiencing all kinds of weather and seasons – sometimes occurring on the same day.

There’s usually one day …

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Back Home: A strange spring indeed


One of the benefits of starting my seventh decade of life in Wisconsin is experiencing all kinds of weather and seasons – sometimes occurring on the same day.

There’s usually one day every year when the sun shines, the snow melts, green grass emerges and you feel spring in the air. Not this year. Spring just sort of emerged from the winter that never was.

I can’t say I was extremely meteorologically observant during my first two decades, but as far as winter and early spring, 2024 has been a memorable one. When did winter start and spring begin? Tapping maples in February. Road weight limit bans already done. River flows like late summer. We’re in a drought. Outdoor burning bans everywhere. It’s only March.

What’s a spring without river flooding? We’re about to find out. I’ve covered lots of river flooding stories, especially along the Mississippi. Last spring was one for the records with near record-high river levels.

This spring, not so much. The National Weather Service – in its third spring flood outlook released March 14 – said the risk for spring flooding is below normal. That’s due to below normal precipitation throughout most of the Upper Mississippi River Valley during meteorological winter.

There is no winter snow pack to melt. There is no frost in the ground. So even if we get some heavy rains, most of the moisture should be soaked up by the ground. Because the dry winter is an extension of the longer-term drought status from the end of last year’s growing season. 

According to the National Weather Service in La Crosse, from April 1, 2024 through March 13, precipitation departures ranged from near-normal in a few spots to 8 to 20 inches below normal. That means it’s abnormally dry to extreme drought and classifications in between. The last time more than 90 percent of the region was in drought was in June 2021.

With the exception of southeast Wisconsin, the entire state is in a drought, which is much the same in parts of Minnesota and Iowa. Northeastern Iowa is in extreme drought status. You can see it with our streams. They usually increase this time of year because of melting snow or rain, but they are decreasing because of our dry winter that followed a dry fall and summer.

I have to admit that I really didn’t miss shoveling snow, but the lack of the white stuff certainly hammered the winter tourism season – especially for northern Wisconsin. Last year it was a feast with deep snow until April. This year it’s a famine.

Our yard is trying to turn green, but the grass is crunchy when you walk across it. Grass should not be crunchy in March.

I’ve never seen this many farmers preparing their fields for spring planting this early in the year. Soil temperatures are hovering in the upper 30s – still too cold for planting. But many are getting ready.

I am pleased that a cover crop that I had planted last fall after turning over an old hay field is emerging. I was worried that the nearly 10 inches of rain we received in late October in one day had washed all of the seed away. There’s some green there – it just needs some rain.

As a self-proclaimed weather old-timer, I’m not ready to declare winter over just yet. A few years ago we had several weekend blizzards in April. It’s too late to save the winter recreation season, so I would prefer the melted liquid type of precipitation.

Truth be told, any moisture would be welcome.

Chris Hardie spent more than 30 years as a reporter, editor and publisher. He was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and won dozens of state and national journalism awards. He is a former president of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association. Contact him at


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