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This display's sign in Worthington conveys the wishes of many area residents for a white Christmas.

Dreaming of a BROWN Christmas?

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WORTHINGTON -- If you're dreaming of a white Christmas, it's time to hit the snooze button and hibernate until...maybe January.

"The weather looks very mild, especially through next week and probably through the next couple of weeks, with little or no precipitation expected," said Mike Buss, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Sioux Falls, S.D.

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"This Sunday is expected to be particularly warm -- maybe as high as 44 degrees in the Worthington area -- and all of next week will likely see highs in the low- to mid-30s," he added.

With warmer temperatures having melted the scant snow cover the surrounding area received roughly two weeks ago, the region's best hope for a Currier and Ives-like holiday landscape disappeared as rapidly as Frosty the Snowman in the greenhouse.

"Statistically, we can expect a brown Christmas about every six or seven years; that's not unreasonable," said Buss, noting that Sioux Falls' last brown December was in 2006. "I wouldn't get too worked up about it, because we'll likely be snowed under again next year."

Not everyone is bemoaning the absence of snow, however.

Steve Schnieder, the Nobles County Public Works Director, is in fact a bit relieved at the current weather pattern.

"From January through March of this year, we used up what we had budgeted on paper for overtime with all the snow removal necessary -- we got hit pretty hard," revealed Schnieder. "Our budget year runs from Jan. 1 through Dec. 31, so that impact continues until the end of this year.

"Of course, if there's a need for the plows to go out and work, we do it and reduce spending elsewhere in the budget, but if we can avoid having to overspend, that's good."

Schnieder explained that his department doesn't technically have a "snow removal" line item in the county's budget; rather, he budgets for fuel, cutting edges, salt, sand, labor hours and benefits, although the cumulative cost of snow removal operations is tracked.

"The biggest thing right now is we aren't using as much fuel, which is still kind of expensive, and we're not wearing out cutting edges," acknowledged Schnieder.

"It's always OK with me not to have a white Christmas -- and when you think about it, a lot of the world never has snow -- but we are quite blessed to have the seasons," he continued.

"When we do have snow on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, though, our guys end up going out on the holidays and are taken away from their families, so it's nice for our workers this way."

In addition, Schnieder said the Nobles County Public Works Department is currently waiting for a new truck to be equipped for plow operations, and candidates for the county grounds keeping position (with job duties including sidewalk snow removal at county facilities) are being interviewed -- so a big snow right now would not be a welcome sight.

"It would be nice to get into January without having to deal with snow," admitted Schnieder. "We've had a lot of good winter weather in the past two years, so we can use the break this year to get caught up on other miscellaneous operations we don't have time for when there is a constant need for snow removal."

For example, Schnieder explained that the dry weather has allowed for more thorough bridge inspections around the county.

"With the water down, you can see things you normally can't see under water," observed Schnieder. "Once in awhile, a little dry weather gives us other opportunities."

But the dry weather, if not the lack of snow, is a cause for concern for Worthington Public Utilities (WPU).

"We have seen the static water levels drop at the Lake Bella water field," said Scott Hain, WPU general manager. "They're on the lower end of normal when you look at the averages over the last 10 years.

"The worrisome part is when we get colder weather and the ground freezes, the levels will continue to go down because there's no recharge when the ground is frozen.

"I'll be curious to see if the little bit of rain the other day did anything, but I doubt it because the ground is so dry, it probably just sucked it all up."

National Weather Service figures show Worthington received .21 inches of precipitation this week as of Thursday morning; a total of .47 inches had dropped in the area in December to date.

"It's not much, but it's better than nothing," Buss offered.

After an exceptionally wet July -- Hain said records from the local wastewater treatment plant measured precipitation 9.5 inches above normal for that month -- August through November was equally as dry, with precipitation being 7.64 inches below normal for that period.

"I've seen the [static well] levels lower than this, in successive drought years, but we'll definitely keep our eye on it," assured Hain. "Hopefully we'll get a little more rain before it snows, and some reasonable moisture next spring.

"The real concern is that, typically from this point of year to spring thaw, the levels don't do much but consistently drop, and some rain -- or an insulating blanket of snow -- would help keep the frost levels higher when it does get colder, which can help lessen the chance of water main breaks."

But, like Minnesota Christmas traditionalists sighing over the lack of snow, Hain has no control over the dearth of moisture.

Philosophized Hain, "It is what it is, and there's not a whole lot we can do about it."

Commented meteorologist Buss, "We'll probably have more normal winter weather in January, so enjoy it while you can."

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