This winter began much warmer than normal, but where does this year’s mildness rank all-time? You might be surprised to learn that although we are in the top 10 warmest starts to winter, we are not really close to the top. In fact, we are experiencing only the sixth warmest Dec. 1-Feb. 8 in Madison history with an average temperature of 28.3 degrees Fahrenheit during that stretch.
Only one other year within the last 10 makes the same top 10 list, and that was 2001-2002, which came in at No. 3 with an average Dec. 1- Feb. 8 temperature of 28.9 F.
The all-time warmest such period occurred in 1877-1878, when the average temperature was 31.9 F — incredibly warm. That winter went on to be the warmest (December, January, February) ever in Madison with a daily average temperature of 32 F. In fact, of the 12 winters that made the top 10 list for Dec. 1 — Feb. 8 (there were three tied at 10th place), nine of them also made the top 10 list for warmest winter in Madison.
Very warm Februarys in 1931, 1954, and 1998 (when Lake Mendota was ice free on Feb. 28, the only February end to the ice season on record) put those winters in the top 10 for warmest winter even though they did not get off to as warm a start as this year has.
So, it seems likely that our winter will end up being one of the warmest but not even close to the warmest.