Two sisters frolicked along the Chippewa riverfront while visiting Phoenix Park with their parents Saturday afternoon. Up on the paths about 100 feet away, a woman donned a T-shirt and shorts for her late afternoon run. A nearby fisherman cast his line into the river from the shore, hoping it was his lucky day.
The scene sounds like any typical summer — maybe even spring — day in Eau Claire. However, it was the reality of Saturday, a record-breaking, balmy early January day that drew crowds of Eau Claire residents out of their homes and to area parks and trails.
The weather alone — plus seeing a few runners sporting shorts in January — was enough to shock Kay Granger and Jan Ash of Eau Claire, who get together almost every week for a four-mile walk along the Chippewa River Recreation Trail, even through the winter months.
But Saturday was different — neither Granger nor Ash could recall a day as warm as this one in January, usually the coldest month of the year.
And they’re right — according to National Weather Service meteorologist Bill Borghoff, Eau Claire saw a high of 47 degrees on Saturday, breaking the previous record of 43 degrees that was set in 2012.
“It is beautiful, absolutely beautiful,” Granger said, smiling. “Something about fresh air, it’s just so good for you. And it’s so fun to see so many families out with their dogs and kids.”
“There were lots of people out in shorts,” Ash said, laughing. “You know, I don’t know if it’s quite that warm ... But I actually hung my sheets on the line this morning. I thought, there’s no snow in my backyard, so I can hang my sheets up and not worry about it. I don’t think I’ve ever done that in January because I’d usually be traipsing through the snow.”
Suddenly, a jet skier careened down the Chippewa River behind them. The duo laughed.
“No way. I have never seen this in January. ... I thought I’d seen it all,” Ash said as she and Granger continued to chuckle as they looked on. “But then, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a jet skier out on the river at all.”
Annette Sellner also got outside to celebrate the unseasonably warm temperatures. She and her husband, Jake Johnson, brought their dog and two daughters, 11-year-old Evie and 3-year-old Casey Johnson out to Rod & Gun Park Saturday afternoon and then stopped at Phoenix Park.
“Thank goodness we could get outside today. That was our goal,” Sellner said, noting she preferred this to the winter they moved to Eau Claire when it was around “negative 50 degrees.”
“The sun was just beating into our window today, so I was like ‘we absolutely need to get outside today,’” Sellner said. “And it feels good.”
Nearby, Ken Willer of Eau Claire was fishing from the shore.
The weather was a little more bittersweet for him — Willer had originally planned to go ice fishing on Half Moon Lake but decided against it out of fear the ice was too thin and he’d fall through.
“It’s kind of nice to come to the river,” Willer said. “But I’m also a little annoyed I can’t go ice fishing.”
“But whatever,” he added. “It’s pretty comfortable.”
That comfortable will be short lived. Eau Claire can expect a cool down, Borghoff said, with a projected high of 34 degrees today and 1-2 inches of snow in the late afternoon that will gradually turn into rain by the evening.