How did this year’s winter rank?

Meteorological winter in the Northern Hemisphere is often defined as the three months of December, January and February. The just-ended winter of 2022-23 was notable in a number of ways.

First, here in Madison we started with a chilly month of December during which we averaged 0.8 degrees below normal. This was also the only month of the season in which we had a day with a high temperature below zero — minus 3 on Dec. 23.

January was 7.6 degrees above normal and was followed by a February that was 4.4 degrees above normal. Thus, overall, December, January and February were 3.71 degrees above normal in Madison this winter.

Winter climate statistics for Madison, Wisconsin. Credit: NWS

On the hemispheric scale, we can measure the areal extent of air colder than minus 5 degrees Celsius — 23 degrees Fahrenheit — at about 1 mile above sea-level (formally, at a level where the atmospheric pressure is 850 millibars) with records back to 1948-49. This year turned out to have the 16th smallest average areal extent over December, January and February — thus, by this measure, it was the 16th warmest winter in the last 75 years.

In fact, of the top 20 warmest winters measured this way, 17 have come since 2000-01. This is not a weird coincidence but instead is part of a longer trend that unequivocally reveals a slow but systematic warming of the planet. It is well past time that we as a society stop arguing about what is now settled fact — that global warming is real and ongoing — and start spending our collective intellectual energy on deciding how best to confront this reality.

Trends in average surface temperature from 1993-2022. Overall, land areas warmed faster than oceans. The most extreme warming (darkest red) was in the northern hemisphere. Data from NOAA NCEI.

Steve Ackerman and Jonathan Martin, professors in the UW-Madison department of atmospheric and oceanic sciences, are guests on WHA radio (970 AM) at 11:45 a.m. the last Monday of each month. Send them your questions at or

Category: Climate, Meteorology, Seasons

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