If you’ve had any lingering suspicion that 2013 has gotten off to an amazingly wet start, that suspicion can now be confirmed. As of April 24, both Madison and Milwaukee have recorded the wettest start to a calendar year ever.
Milwaukee recorded 15.19 inches of liquid-equivalent precipitation, just outpacing the prior record of 15.08 inches set in 1976. Madison recorded 13.45 inches of liquid equivalent through April 24, breaking the former record of 13.30 inches set in 1973.
It does appear that the faucet will be turned down at least for the next week or so, though occasional showery days still seem to be in the near future.
What is causing the persistent snowy/rainy pattern that we have endured these past couple of months? The answer to such questions regarding the behavior of the atmosphere is not often easy to uncover, and a lot of effort must be spent after the fact looking for explanations.
One of the most satisfying aspects of studying atmospheric science is that interesting questions come up all the time. It is easy to remain motivated to keep thinking.
Pursuing such questions invariably leads to new insights about a variety of other weather phenomena that were not originally part of the research project.
When you hear people talk about the importance of “basic research,” this is what they mean: that by pursuing question A, a curious mind will stumble upon answer B and that answer may lead to the development of brand new insights about nature. Study of this wet beginning to 2013 will almost surely yield unintended new insights as well.