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Associated Press
A street-side Christmas display in Chamberlain, S.D., is seen surrounded by brown grass. Snowfall has been well below normal in northern U.S. states through early winter.

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. — Dreams of a white Christmas are hanging by a thread in the North, where unusually mild weather has left the ground bare in many places — a welcome reprieve for people who don't like shoveling, but a lump of coal in the stockings of outdoor sports buffs who miss their winter wonderland.

From New England to the Dakotas and even parts of the Northern Rockies and Pacific Northwest, snowfall has been well below normal through the fall and early winter with cold air bottled up over Canada. Golf courses were open this week in Minneapolis, which a year ago was digging out from a storm that dumped more than 17 inches of snow and collapsed the Metrodome roof. Many downhill ski resorts are making snow to compensate for nature's stinginess.

"It's been an amazingly slow start to the winter for everybody," said Mike Boguth, a National Weather Service forecaster in Gaylord, Mich., a resort town that has had only about 2 inches of natural snow this year.

La Nina, the cooling of the equatorial Pacific Ocean that affects weather worldwide, has nudged the jet stream farther north. Air pressure over the northern Atlantic has steered storm systems away from the East Coast.

The trends have resulted in the least snow New England has seen in November and December since the late 1990s, said Eric Evenson, a weather service meteorologist in Burlington, Vt. Snow totals across the region are 4 to 14 inches below normal, he said.

Williston, N.D., where more than 5 inches would have accumulated by now in a typical December, has gotten nothing. A couple of inches fell farther south in Bismarck but melted. Montana's mountain snowpack is about 30 percent below average. Ski resorts in Washington state have gotten little snow since Thanksgiving.

Even snowy Michigan is feeling the pinch. Parts of the state regularly get more than 100 inches a year as clouds suck up moisture from the Great Lakes and deposit it over land. It's been sparse this year, although light snow fell Friday and forecasters said sections of Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota might get the 1 inch required to qualify as a white Christmas.

Light flurries and temperatures around 30 degrees are expected Christmas Day in Green Bay, Wis., where the Packers will host the Chicago Bears. That's downright balmy for Lambeau Field, the notorious "frozen tundra" that has hosted a fair share of NFL games in bitter cold and pelting snow.

A storm system moving up from the Gulf coast may sprinkle up to 3 inches of snow in sections of the Northeast by Christmas.