Chicago having its warmest winter in 80 years

By Meteorologist Paul Dailey

Meteorological winter is two-thirds over in Chicago, and at this point the winter of 2011-12 stands as the warmest since 1931-32 and the ninth warmest overall dating back to 1871. January ended with overall temperatures averaging 6 degrees above normal as a cool front approached from the west Tuesday afternoon. Southwesterly winds gusting to 30 mph pushed the official high at O’Hare International Airport to 57 degrees, tying Dec. 15 for the highest reading since the Dec. 1 start of meteorological winter. Midway Airport and Northerly Island both recorded highs of 58, and the mildest area reading was 61 degrees at Pontiac.

Storm brewing
While Chicago weather continues to be relatively mild, a major winter storm is brewing in the central Plains. Intensifying low pressure in Kansas will slam moisture-laden air from the Gulf of Mexico against the foothills of western Kansas and Nebraska and the foothills and mountains of eastern Colorado, dumping a foot or more of snow. Blinding snow driven by strong east to northeast winds will likely create blizzard conditions in that area later Thursday into Friday.
Current computer models have the center of that storm moving east up the Ohio River Valley. Under that scenario, Chicago will rest on the northern edge of the storm and receive a light rain-snow mix over the weekend. Any jog in the storm track could impact the amount and type of precipitation that falls across the area. It’s a development worth monitoring in coming days. Stay tuned.

ASK TOM WHY: Chicago's January temperatures

Dear Tom,
January is Chicago’s coldest month, but is it always the coldest month every winter?

—James Proust

Dear James,
On average, January is Chicago’s coldest month, but it’s not necessarily the coldest month in any given winter. Long-term temperature averages at Midway Airport (1929-2011) rank January as the city’s coldest month with 23.9 degrees followed by February at 27.9 degrees and December at 28.9. However, it’s not often that the city’s wildly variable weather adheres closely to those averages. More often than not, Chicago’s month-to-month temperatures consist of large swings above and below the averages. In that vein, the data suggest it’s premature to assume winter’s coldest temperatures are behind us. February has been Chicago’s coldest month in 18 of the past 83 winters, and March was the season’s coldest in the winter of 1931-32.

January 2012 closes as it began: Unseasonably mild; Monday's 53-degree city high, mildest in 3 weeks, misses the record by 2 degrees!

By Meteorologist Tom Skilling

January 2012 closes as it began: Unseasonably mild; Monday’s 53-degree city high, mildest in 3 weeks, misses the record by 2 degrees!
Temperatures in Chicago Monday, which missed the 1988 record by just 2-degrees, may well top the official April-level 53-degree high Tuesday—hitting the mid 50s. The meteorological wildcard Tuesday is the speed at which clouds spread over area skies as powerful southwest winds with Gulf moisture in tow, make their way into the Chicago area. Clouds are expected to extinguish morning sunshine upon their lunchtime and afternoon arrival.

It wouldn’t be surprising at all to see a few typically milder locations across the Chicago area flirt with 60-degrees.

Tuesday’s predicted high of 54 at O’Hare would be 22-degrees above normal and the mildest reading here in nearly three weeks. It would also equal April 2nd’s “normal” high!

The latest round of unseasonable warmth comes at the end of a month expected to finish nearly 6-degrees above normal when it ends Tuesday night at midnight.

The opening two months of meteorological winter season, which began December 1, has been this area’s mildest in 78 years and has featured the fewest number of days with an inch of snow on the ground—just 7 of them—in 23 years.  

Monday’s 53-degree high marked the ninth time this winter season a daytime reading has reached or exceeded 50-degrees.  Over the years, an average of only half as many 50-degree days have occurred by January’s close. And just two other winter seasons over the past 32 years (dating back to the 1980-81 cold season) have produced a greater number of 50-degree or higher readings by Jan. 31: Winter 2001-02 and the 2006-07 season.
60-degree temperatures as close as Peru and Peoria; St. Louis and Kansas city top out at 67-degrees
Spring-like 60-degree temperatures weren’t all that far away Monday. 60-degree highs occurred as close Peoria and the Quad Cities—each record-breaking readings.. Farther south and west, St. Louis and Kansas City topped out at 67-degrees.
Scope of Monday’s above normal temperatures breathtaking; the mild weather across the Lower 48 extended nearly coast to coast; readings in the 60s to near 70 broke records Monday across 6 states
Temperatures were milder than normal from coast to coast across the Lower 48 Monday.  A Penn State meteorology department analysis of afternoon readings Monday afternoon put temperatures at nearly every weather station from eastern Montana across the Plains and into Illinois and southern Wisconsin within the warmest 10 percent of temperatures observed this time of the year from 1981 through 2010.

Highs in the 60s to around 70 established new records across 6 mid-U.S. states. Among the new record highs were:
70-degrees Topeka and Russell, Kansas,
69-degrees  Grand Island, Nebraska
67-degrees St. Louis
67-degrees Norfolk, Nebraska
66-degrees Joplin, Missouri
65-degrees Vichy-Rolla, Missouri
65-degrees Sioux City and Ottumwa, Iowa
63 Lamoni, Iowa
60 Peoria, Illinois
49-degrees Sisseton, South Dakota
January’s temperatures finish 5 to 14-degrees higher than a year ago across the entire Midwest; month to finish 6-degrees above normal in Chicago
The uniformity of above normal temperatures in January 2012 from one corner of the Midwest to another was stunning. The region’s average temperatures are to finish an impressive 6-degrees above normal upon the month’s close, a departure which means this past month’s temperatures have run 5 to as much as 14-degrees above January a year ago
Small earthquake hits near Illinois/Wisconsin border around 9:54 pm; prompts calls from anxious residents; USGS reports trembler only a 2.4 on Richter Scale
Reports that an earthquake may have occurred began arriving in our WGN/Chicago Tribune weather office and our WGN-TV news desk around 10 p.m. from a range of communities, most of them north of Chicago. There was initially NO confirmation from the U.S. Geological Survey—the agency which monitors the country’s earthquake activity. 

Our check with area police departments indicated they had received scores of calls from concerned residents who had noticed the minor quake—and, sure enough, official word was soon to follow around 11 pm from USGS that a tiny quake had indeed occurred. The agency reported that a small 2.4 Richter Scale quake was measured, emanating 6.2 miles below the surface close to the Wisconsin/Illinois border 11 miles southwest of Kenosha, WI and 14 miles northwest of Waukegan.  

Such quakes are small enough to be missed by many—but others reported to us that the trembler was QUITE noticeable to them and that it had made what was frequently described as a deep rumbling sound.

Alaska shivering through month-long cold wave; Interior temps down to 66-below in recent days; Fairbanks average January temp of 26.4-below, more than 18-degrees below normal!
While January’s abnormal warmth had dominated weather cover across much of the Lower 48, brutally cold air has gripped Alaska nearly the entire month, producing temperatures as low as 66-degrees below zero Monday morning near Ft. Yukon, Alaska and 64-below at the Kandik River COOP observation site in the state’s Interior. Other lows included 60-below at Manley Hot Springs, 54-below at Nenana and 51-below at Fairbanks.

The month’s average temperature of 26.4-below at Fairbanks is 18.4-degrees below normal. Farther south in Anchorage in the south-central section of the state, January’s 23-degree average temperature, while cold, is nearly 4-degrees above normal.
End of week central U.S. storm system being monitored; rain could switch to wet snow between Friday afternoon and Saturday
A storm system, forecast to take shape in the Plains later this week, is being monitored as a possible precipitation producer here in Chicago. The disturbance is arrive amid colder temperatures and strengthening east to northeast winds later Friday into Saturday. It could bring drizzle or sprinkles to the area Friday morning which would build to steadier rain, mixing with ice pellets and possible snow Friday night—then possibly switching to wet snow for a time Saturday.

Many details are only beginning to come into view—but it’s definitely a system we’ll be watching and reporting on in coming days!

Earthquake felt across northern suburbs

Minor quake rumbles across northern suburbs; 2.4 in Richter Scale; USGS reports it hit at a depth of 6.2 miles at 9:54 CST Monday evening
A 2.4 magnitude earthquake has rattled homes and businesses throughout Chicago’s north and northwest suburbs.
According to United States Geological Survey physicist Shengzao Chen, a minor earthquake struck just before 10 pm on Monday, its epicenter approximately 11 miles southwest of Kenosha and 14 miles northwest of Waukegan.
The exact coordinates are 42.526 degrees north and 88.032 degrees west.
North and northwest suburban police departments are reporting receiving a number of phone calls from residents feeling the quake.
There are no immediate reports of injury or damage.
For a map and more information from USGS–CLICK HERE


ASK TOM WHY: How common is it to go an entire winter without a below zero temperature?

Dear Tom,
How common is it to go an entire winter without a below zero temperature?

–Larry Voves, Orland Park

Dear Larry,
It’s quite unusual. In the 141 winters dating to 1870-71, Chicago has logged only a dozen winters that failed to produce a subzero day, about 1 every 12 years. It’s been nearly 30 years since the city last had a winter without below-zero temperatures (in 1982-83), but subzero cold definitely has been an infrequent visitor in recent winters. The winter of 2004-05 produced just one such day; there were only two in 2005-06, one in 2009-10 and four last winter. In contrast, Chicago’s winter with the most subzero days was in 1884-85 when the mercury dropped into negative territory 25 times. Despite this winter’s ongoing mild character, early February is the city’s most frequent period for subzero readings, so we may still drop below zero this winter.

Tim's Weather World: Snowmen on endangered species list

snowmanfunny.jpgWe got a bit of snow this weekend with just under an inch total between Saturday and Sunday at O’Hare.   That brings the grand total for this snow season to 13.9″ which is only 70% of what we normally see to this point.   This winter now ties for the tenth place with the least # of days with an inch of snow or more on the ground.  There have only been 7 days this winter where an inch or more snow has been reported on the ground at O’Hare.

Keep in mind snow lovers that it could be even worse.   Here is a list of cities that have seen an even greater disparity between actual snowfall and what they normally see during a typical winter to date.

                         Snowfall so far this winter        Normal       % of normal

Boston                     7.8″                                   22.4″            35%

Minneapolis             14.9″                                  32.8″            45%

Green Bay               15.3″                                  29.5″            52%

Des Moines             10.1″                                  19.4″            52%

Detroit                     15.6″                                  22.9″            68%


The snowpack has faded fast this past week.  As of yesterday, 28.8% of the lower 48 has snow cover with an average depth of 3.3″.   That is down from a week ago when 42.6% of the lower 48 had snow cover with an average depth of 4″.

nsm_depth_2012012905_National.jpgI think I know where all the snow went.   Valdez, Alaska has seen 328.5″ of snow so far this winter season.  That is more than 27 feet of snow!   They have seen 174% of average snowfall.



Gusty southwest winds to bring a surge in temps

By Meteorologist Paul Merzlock

Snow cover across the Midwest will disappear quickly on Monday as temperatures soar to near 50. A warm front will sweep across the Chicago area around noon, shifting winds to the southwest and ushering unseasonanbly mild air from the Plains into the area. Temperatures Sunday afternoon reached the upper 50s and lower 60s from South Dakota to Kansas. Even milder air is expected on Tuesday despite an increase in cloud cover. Temperatures on Tuesday are forecast to reach 50 degree, early April levels. On the same date a year ago, Chicagoans were preparing for a much different scenario as one of the most intense blizzards ever to strike the city took shape. Temperatures will peak on Tuesday before winds turn northwest, bringing the onset of a cooling trend that will continue into the upcoming weekend. By Saturday, readings are expected to be more seasonable with highs around freezing. Snow prospects will remain meager. Minor accumulations are possible Friday night or Saturday.