Winter officially began at 11:11 a.m. on Saturday with the winter solstice, but everyone knows it has felt like winter for quite some time as we have endured a cold (and snowy) first two-thirds of December.
In fact, through the first 18 days of the month, the average temperature has been 6.2 degrees colder than normal and we have had 9.9 inches of snow accumulate over 10 snowy days (days on which at least a trace of snow has fallen).
December is nearly our snowiest month on average, logging 12.6 inches in a normal year over nine snowy days. (January logs 13.1 inches.) The 5-plus inches of snow that blanketed the Madison area Sunday puts us over the monthly average.
Of course, almost no matter what happens the rest of this month, we will not approach the record-setting cold and snow of December 2000. During that month, the average high temperature was only 22.1 degrees (10 degrees below normal) and we accumulated 35 inches of snow over 22 snowy days!
That month was the second-snowiest December on record (topped only by December 2008 with 40.4 inches) and the fourth-coldest December ever — a rare combination indeed.
Unfortunately, the start of the season offers no historical clues about how it will progress. After our cold and snowy December 2000, the rest of the season (January and February) was much warmer than normal and only 17.2 inches of additional snow fell.
After the record snowy December 2008, which came on the heels of our snowiest winter ever in 2007-08 (101.4 inches), we had another 32 inches of snow in January and February, well above the normal for those two months (21.8 inches).
Thus, it appears that anything could happen as the rest of the winter unfolds.