Smile Politely

State of the Winter Address

At the time of my writing, we’re just three weeks away from closing the books on another meteorological winter season (calendar months of December, January, February). The winter that was preceded by threats of “Godzilla El Nino, because as always, God forbid we enter one meteorological season without pre-labeling it with a mainstream weather buzz word.

I wrote an article on the upcoming winter back in October, and advised that while all El Nino are not created equal, we’d probably end up a little warmer than average with a little less snow than usual. In this warm weather lovers eyes this was a welcome change after two straight winters with the ‘Polar Vortex’ freezing us to the bone.

So now, with three weeks remaining in the winter season, where do we stand in winter 2015-2016? Warm. Really warm. And an almost complete absence of snow. But not for lack of precipitation in general. No — we’ve had more than our fair share of rain around here. But in a winter where we have seen over twice as many days with high temperatures in the 50s as we have days with highs in the 20s or colder — almost all of that record setting precipitation we saw early in the winter has fallen as rain.

For those who like numbers, let’s see how this winter has compared with the last two — again, knowing that we have another three weeks before we close the books on things this year. Winter 2013-14 saw an average temperature of 21.6 degrees in Champaign-Urbana, with Winter 2014-15 coming in with an average temperature of 25.5 degrees. Winter 2015-16 jumps all the way up to 33.8 degrees. That is plenty more than “a little bit warmer”. December 2015 alone was an entire 11.4 degrees warmer than average. And again, as I mentioned briefly above, while it’s a fairly random statistic to pull out of the air I find it fascinating that we have seen 18 days already with high temperatures above 50 degrees compared to only 7 days with high temperatures in the 20s or colder. Heck, Champaign-Urbana has hit high temperatures of 60+ degrees already five times this winter. So it’s safe to say that cold weather, while not completely absent, has certainly not been the overwhelming theme that it has during the last couple of winters in the Midwest.

What about the “a little less snow than usual” claim I made back in October, how has that panned out? In 2013-14, Champaign-Urbana saw 39” of total snowfall. And then in 2014-15 we saw less than half of that at 16.8”. Interesting to note however, that on March 1st last winter we saw an additional 8” of snow fall — so we were just 24 hours away from that total reaching over the 25” mark, a bit more in line with the 39” that fell in ’13-14. Anyway, I digress. So with three weeks to go, where are we in 2015-16? Probably very few surprised faces when I tell you we’ve seen just 4” of snow this winter. Total. That means as of today, Winter 2013-14 saw nearly 10 times as much snow, and was an average of 12 degrees colder.

So where are we headed? Well, before getting ahead of ourselves let’s finish out this winter. The remainder of February doesn’t look all that different. A few blasts of cold air mixed in with more above average warmth. That shouldn’t rock the boat a whole lot with the statistics I’ve presented for the current winter season up until this point. While it takes just one big snowstorm to plow right through central Illinois and take a big bite out of our snow deficit, I don’t see much on the horizon (barring some major jinx from this article!). My guess is that on February 29th we’re closing the books on a very warm, nearly snow-free winter.

Finally, looking deep into the crystal ball the Climate Prediction Center continues to forecast above average warmth on their Three-Month outlook for the months of February, March and April. They also forecast below average precipitation during that same time frame. There is not a lot of data to support whether we’ll see an active severe weather season this spring as the El Nino episode weakens so I won’t try to draw conclusions that aren’t there.

So winter lovers — I’m sorry. Warm weather lovers — we did it! Finally a winter that does not have my cabin fever off the charts as we trudge through February. A winter with bike rides, hikes through the woods, and even a little thunder. As my dad would say, you don’t have to shovel sunshine!

Andrew Pritchard publishes daily weather information for Champaign-Urbana and surrounding communities at and on Facebook.

All climate statistics for Champaign-Urbana originated from the Illinois State Water Survey.

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