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Our winter: The way it was, and how it was supposed to be

By Brad Spakowitz

Although we are already at the end of March, more winter weather is still possible – perhaps even into April, as was the case just a few years ago, when we had a historic late-season snowstorm (April 13-15, 2018) that brought 20-25 inches of snow to surrounding communities.

Despite more snow possibilities in the weeks ahead, meteorological winter (December, January and February) is in the history book, and here’s how it played out here at home.

December: Warm and wet

December kicked off winter with a variety of wild weather, including record-breaking high temperatures, strong winds, rain and thunder mid-month (Dec. 15-16).

While this unusual December warmth did help skew the monthly average temperature upward, many other days and nights registered warmer than the 30-year average.

The final average temperature came in at 3.7 degrees above “normal.”

Despite the warmth, December brought a trace or more of snow on 18 days, with a total monthly snowfall coming in at 15 inches, just shy of 2 inches above average (13.1 inches).

There were also several rain events when added to melted snow and ice, which brought the monthly precipitation total to 2.01 inches, .26 inches above average.

January: Cold and dry

January is historically the coldest month of the year, and it more than lived up to that reputation this winter, with a monthly average temperature of 4.6 degrees colder than normal.

The month was also marked by little snow, only 7.5 inches, roughly half the normal amount of 14.3 inches.

When melted down, the snowfall moisture was puny, only .32 inches, (1.07 inches less than average), making January the fourth driest on record.

February: Cold and dry

February was also cold and dry, but not as cold and not as dry as January.

At month’s end, the average temperature came in 1.2 degrees colder than normal, but a significant improvement over our frigid January.

Monthly total snow was less than January, only 5.6 inches fell, 6.4 inches less than the average 12.0 inches.

The snow that fell yielded a slightly higher moisture content than January (compliments of slightly warmer temperatures), measuring 0.43 inches, but still 0.77 inches less than average.

Putting it all together

After crunching the numbers, here is how meteorological winter played out this year in northeast Wisconsin.

The average high temperature was 29.1 degrees (0.6 degrees above average).

The average low temperature was 12.1 degrees (2 degrees colder than average).

Together, the mean temperature was 20.6 degrees, placing the overall winter temperature at 0.7 degrees colder than the 30-year average (21.3 degrees).

Total snowfall came to 28.1 inches, 11.3 inches less than average (39.4 inches).

Precipitation, rain and melted snow and ice came in at 2.76 inches, 1.58 inches less than average (4.34 inches).

Bottom line: This year’s meteorological winter was colder and drier than the 30-year average.

That wasn’t forecasted

Released back in October 2021, the official winter forecast from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), called for warmer than average temperatures and above-average precipitation here in eastern Wisconsin, the exact opposite of what happened.

So, what went wrong?

This winter, like last, was a La Nina winter – A weather pattern that typically makes us colder and wetter.

I can’t speak for NOAA, but I suspect they went in the direction of warmer temperatures, given the fact that last winter was warmer.

But, as I explained in the Oct. 29 issue of The Press Times, “The problem for Wisconsin is that we are right on the edge of where it is typically colder and where it is not; and right on the edge of where it is typically wetter and where it is not, leaving us somewhere in-between, so it can go either way with temperatures and precipitation.”

And now of course, we know exactly how it went.

What about spring?

NOAA’s latest 90-day outlook (March, April, May) says our temperatures will be warmer than average, with equal chances of precipitation going either way.

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