The ground under any of the snowbanks that have been in place since last fall is likely free of frost, according to Vaughn Dewald, owner of Dewald Backhoe and a contractor in the area.

"Week before last we were digging in an area that had been snow covered before it was cleared," he said. "No frost."

Areas that lack snow cover can have frost up to 30 inches deep, Dewald said.

"It is still less frost than last winter but it varies," he said.

Allen Schlag, hydrologist for the National Weather Service in Bismarck, said snow acts as an insulation. If an area received enough snow cover before the ground froze, the ground likely did not freeze during the winter despite cold temperatures. In areas with less snow cover, or even open ground without snow cover, the moisture in the soil has frozen.

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What that means regarding the potential for possible floods in the area is a mixed bag, Schlag said.

"In the best years, we have a lot of open ground," he said, referring to areas without frost in the ground. That allows moisture from melting snow to soak away rather than run into the rivers and sloughs.

"In the worst years, all the ground is frozen solid," Schlag said. "We're somewhere in the middle of those two extremes."

Schlag said areas without frost in the ground could see some moisture absorbed into the ground rather than running into streams and sloughs although that will also be affected by the amount of water already held in the soil.

The lack of frozen ground under snowbanks may be causing problems for farmers still trying to harvest corn, according to Alicia Harstad, Stutsman County Extension agent for agriculture and natural resources.

"For the people out combining it is a challenge," she said. "People are still getting stuck."

Looking ahead to spring, Harstad said a deep frost in the ground can result in delayed spring planting. The frozen ground prevents the topsoil from drying enough for fieldwork and the ice deep in the ground can result in lower soil temperatures.

She doesn't think less frost in the ground this year will guarantee farmers will get into their fields early.

"It was really wet going into fall," she said, "and we've had a lot of snow since ... either way, the ground is saturated."