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2/21/2012 8:42:00 AM
Warmest winter since 2002 cancels annual winter festival in Steuben County

Mike Marturello, Herald Republican Editor

ANGOLA — Indiana’s mild winter is having an impact on northeast Indiana tourism.

Like the weather itself, there are positives and negatives to the mild winter.

An annual winter festival in Steuben County had to be canceled due to a lack of snow necessary to run snowmobiles. The event was scheduled for January, postponed to Feb. 4, then canceled because of unseasonably warm weather.

“If I could figure out how to control the weather, I would be tourism director of the world,” said June Julien, executive director of the Steuben County Tourism Bureau.

The weather seems to have had a reverse effect in LaGrange County, said Beth Thornburg, executive director of the LaGrange County Convention and Visitors Bureau. She said it would appear the mild weather is drawing more shoppers to downtown Shipshewana. And with a move of the bureau to Shipshewana, there’s been more activity.

“Overall, traffic has been pretty decent,” Thornburg said.

The mild weather did put a damper of sorts on Shipshewana’s annual ice carving festival at the end of December.

“The day of the initial carving, it was OK. But it started raining, which is hardest on the ice, on the next day,” Thornburg said. Sculptures that were not under cover ended up melting away much earlier than they would have in even above-freezing temperatures.

Senior National Weather Service meteorologist Michael Koch in Indianapolis said Indiana’s winter has averaged about 5.6 degrees warmer than normal, making it the warmest since 2002.

He said that through Feb. 16, it’s been Indiana’s 11th-warmest winter based on weather records that go back 142 years.

Koch told the Herald-Times of Bloomington that the mild weather is likely due to a cooling of the central Pacific known as La Nina that has kept the jet stream further north. That means cold, snowy weather has stayed farther north as well, giving the state a mild winter.

The weather pattern has local tourism directors concerned about what’s to come. They worry that temperatures will average out — with cooler weather in months when it should be warmer.

“It makes you nervous for what’s going to happen this summer,” Julien said.

“I’m not going to complain, but we might pay for it this spring,” Thornburg said.

Terry German of Sheet’s LP Gas, Angola, said a look at heating degree days and weather patterns over the years would indicate the tourism directors’ fears might be well-founded.

Heating degree days are designed to reflect the demand for energy needed to heat a structure in the winter, based on temperature and a baseline figure.

German said data maintained by Sheet’s show heating degree days are down by about 500 for the season. He said those numbers tend to even out, which would indicate a potentially cool spring. German said a difference of 200 heating degree days doesn’t get much attention, but 500 is way off.

Kevin Dreibelbis, director of communications for Noble County REMC, said this weather has helpd consumers save money on their utility bills. He noted that the area has yet to record one day where the low has dipped below zero.

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Editor, John C. DePrez Jr.; Executive Editor, Carol Rogers; Publishers: IBRC and IAR

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