Lake Mendota remains liquid as the new year approaches.
O.K.... Disappointed! What a letdown this month has been in terms of winter weather. Since 2.6 inches of snow fell on Dec. 1, Madison has enjoyed zilch. Zip. Nada. Stacked up against the historical record, this December has been a complete and utter dud on almost all counts. And with the current forecast calling for clouds and temperatures above freezing until New Year's Eve, a 60% chance of rain on the last day of the year and a 40% chance of rain/snow showers sometime after the last refrain of "Auld Lang Syne," December's prospects for last-minute redemption appear mighty slim.
How bad has this December been? Let me count the ways.
As of Wednesday, Dec. 27, that initial 2.6 inches of snow is long gone and, with no follow-up since then, Madison is a full eight inches behind the 10.6-inch cumulative average for that date (based on data spanning the years 1971-2000). Assuming no more flakes between now and New Year's Day, Madison will finish December an even 10 inches behind the average for the month.
It gets worse. Remember last year? By its 27th day, the month of December 2005 had graced Madison with a cumulative total of 15.2 inches of snow, although most of it fell in the first half of the month. And even that total was less than the 17.3 inches that fell on Dec. 3, 1990 to set the 24-hour record for a Madison snowfall. Ah, the glory days. But I digress.
This December has been so lame that it hasn't even distinguished itself as being all that mediocre. Madison weather records dating back into the 19th century show a dozen Decembers with snowfall totals of no more than 1.6 inches for the month, including three when only a trace of snow was recorded. And a meager 2.2 inches fell in all of December 1998, the 13th least snowy December on record, so it should be acknowledged that even by the pathetic standards of previous pathetic Decembers, December 2006 has been, well, pretty pathetic.
It must also be noted that open water on lakes Mendota and Monona is not all that remarkable for late December. During almost 30 winters since record-keeping began in the mid-19th century, Lake Mendota has waited until January to freeze over -- almost twice as often as Lake Monona. The latest recorded freeze date for both lakes is Jan. 30, set in 1932. The second-latest recorded freeze dates for both lakes is Jan. 14, observed in 1890 and 2000. That's still more than two weeks ahead of us, and iceboaters, skaters and icefishing enthusiasts can always hope.
But one thing they, local snowshoers, sledders, Nordic skiers and other winter enthusiasts can agree on: December 2006 has been a dud in Madison.