I hereby declare this the most spectacular Madison winter since climatologists had the foresight to start keeping detailed local records back in the latter 19th century. Until now, my all-time favorite was the winter of 1978-79, when 76.1 inches of snow fell on Madison to break a seasonal record that had stood for almost 100 years.
Yesterday's gorgeous persistent flurries have pushed us well past that total. At this writing, the National Weather Service's Milwaukee/Sullivan office is listing the Madison seasonal total at 79.2 inches. With another one to three inches forecast overnight into tomorrow, and some meteorologists projecting a possibility of yet more snow for next Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, surpassing 80 inches appears all but certain and even 90 may not be beyond the realm of possibility before the arrival of the spring thaw.
A brief pause to acknowledge that not everyone shares my enthusiasm for this winter: Winters such as this come with undeniable dangers, discomforts and inconveniences.
It must also be noted that 90 inches is below the average seasonal snowfall total for places like Buffalo and Syracuse, some places in Michigan's upper peninsula, and elsewhere around the world, while averages in some mountain regions of the world measure well into the hundreds of inches.
Nevertheless, 80 or 90 inches in Madison make for the kind of winter that one remembers all the way to the grave, and that grows ever more Homeric or biblical as they are recounted to children and grandchildren (prefaced by phrases such as, "Why, I remember back in my day...").
Whether you are a snowshoeing or snowmobiling enthusiast, a Nordic skier or a snowblowing contractor, you may spend the rest of your long happy life in Madison and never again see anything that approaches this. And if you're a kid, well, can you imagine how great it must be to be a kid this winter? How magic it must appear? How impressive the sledding must be for someone still in single digits?
"You can really run out of superlatives in a winter like this," notes Scott Lindstrom of the UW-Madison's Space Science and Engineering Center, who has been compiling numbers that help quantify this winter in Madison. Among them:
- Second-snowiest December
- Eighth-snowiest January
- Third-snowiest February ("so far," he writes via email; "we'll likely grab the #2 slot tomorrow")
In addition, he continues, not quite half-way through February, Madison is "only" 16 inches shy of tying the snowiest month ever here -- February of 1994, when 37 inches fell on Madison.
Adds Lindstrom: "It's extraordinary to break the seasonal record with two months of snow season left!" He observes that on this date back in 1979 when the previous snowy seasonal record for Madison was set (76.1" during the winter of 1978-1979), some 16 inches of snow had yet to fall. "So we're running almost 20" ahead of that old record-setting pace," he writes.
Lindstrom goes on to note that some other impressive records have not yet fallen, including:
- Maximum snow depth (32 inches, set on Jan. 28, 1979)
- Longest consecutive number of days with at least one inch of snow on the ground (118, from Nov. 23, 1978 to March 20, 1979).
As of today, Lindstrom writes, we are at 73 consecutive days, starting from Dec. 2. To break the record, there would have to be at least one inch of snow on the ground all the way through March 29.
I have to admit that even I would be less than enthusiastic at the prospect of approaching that last record. By the end of March, I want to be kayaking on the lakes and biking along the Capitol City Trail.
But for now, what a magnificent Madison winter to be living in.