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Balmy December puts US Pond Hockey Championship on thin ice

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An unusually warm December is putting an annual pond hockey tournament on thin ice.

The U.S. Pond Hockey Championships, which draws hundreds to Lake Nokomis every January, is closely monitoring the forecast over the next 10 days to determine if changes need to be made to this year's tournament, which runs Jan. 14-17, the organization posted on its Facebook page Thursday.

Last week, Lake Nokomis – and Lake Minnetonka, where the North American Pond Hockey Championship is held in January – had wide open water, MPR News reported. By Friday, Nokomis had a thin layer of ice at the shoreline, but it was only an inch thick, WCCO adds.

Ideally, ice on Lake Nokomis would be 10-plus inches thick for the event, WCCO says, but the tournament could go on if there's just 6-8 inches of ice, however that means spectators wouldn't be allowed on the ice, reports note.

The forecast isn't looking very promising. NOAA's Climate Prediction Center shows Minnesota as having above-average temperatures into January, which means tournament organizers may have to start working on an alternative plan.

U.S. Pond Hockey Championship organizers plan to know more next week on whether they'll need to use one of their contingency plans, which include pushing back the date of the tournament and holding the tournament at a different location, reports note, but there's no chance it would move indoors, organizers told WCCO.

The average ice-in date for Lake Nokomis is Dec. 1, with the latest ice-in date being Dec. 20, 2001, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources' website shows. (Typically, the ice-in date refers to when the entire lake is frozen over for the first time and the ice cover remains for the rest of winter, the DNR notes.)

And MPR meteorologist Paul Huttner says there's a 50-50 shot Lake Minnetonka's Excelsior Bay will be at least 18 inches thick for the North American Pond Hockey Tournament, which is held Jan. 21-24. Organizers of that tournament will meet Dec. 28 to decide more about the future of this year's event, MPR News says.

Lake Minnetonka's average ice-in date is Dec. 7, with the latest ice-in date being Jan. 2, 2001, the DNR's website shows.

Above-average temperatures recently have been hurting other businesses and events that rely on snow and cold weather in the winter, including the cancellation of the Sandstone Ice Festival.

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