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Mother Nature has chosen to sabotage Minneapolis' outdoor rinks

The 2016 U.S. Pond Hockey Championships on Lake Nokomis have been delayed once already.

The 2016 U.S. Pond Hockey Championships on Lake Nokomis have been delayed once already.

It’s the final day of the year, and there’s still no ice in Minneapolis parks. No hockey, no broomball, no skating at all in the city known for having more ice rinks than anywhere else in the nation. And all at a time when 35,000 kids have been freed from school to dither and wither in boredom.

The season opener for hundreds of winter sports teams registered with the park board was postponed until January 4. To placate the masses, Parks and Recreation offered two days of free skating at indoor Parade and Northeast Ice Arenas in the past week.

Meanwhile, the people at Parks and Rec have been nervously watching and waiting all season for the ground to harden so they can flood the fields. It takes at least 10 consecutive days of below freezing temps to fully prep a rink, but this warmest-on-record December hasn’t been cold enough. Ten days ago, it was still 40 degrees in Minneapolis.

“I assure you we’re anxious to get them up and made,” says spokeswoman Dawn Sommers. “It was three years ago that we were golfing in December. But the moment it turns cold, people are like, where is everything? The whole process takes days. It’s not an overnight adventure.”

That whole process, it turns out, is actually something of an art. Flood too soon and the ice will thaw and chip. Flood too fast and the ice fills with brittle air pockets. Snow needs to be constantly cleared because it cushions the rink and interferes with freezing.

This week, park employees have started to report in as early as 4 a.m. to spray thin layers of cold water over the ice, building an inch per day. Depending on the terrain, ice will need to be six to 11 inches thick.

Monday night’s storm set workers back, but most city rinks could open next week, as long as temperatures stay as cold as forecasted, says assistant superintendent Justin Long.

When it comes to the moneymaking U.S. Pond Hockey Championships on Lake Nokomis, success is less certain. DNR ice measurements of Nokomis came in at just four inches on Tuesday. It needs to be closer to nine or 12 inches by opening day, January 28.

“I think with the change in temperatures recently, we’re likely to see nine inches by then,” Long says. “There’s always the possibility that it wouldn’t be frozen in time. If that happens they’d probably delay it, but that’s all looking at weather trends.”