Seasonal snow totals inching toward city record

By Meteorologist Richard Koeneman

The dusting of snow that fell across the Chicago area Saturday night early Sunday added another few tenths of an inch of the city’s already substantial cumulative seasonal snow totals. Snowfall amounts were mostly less than one-half inch. Two-tenths of an inch of new snow at O’Hare International Airport carried the official snow total for the 2013-14 snow season to 79.3 inches; 0.1 inch at Midway Airport brought the snow total at that location to 85.3 inches — tantalizingly close to the Chicago all-time record of 89.7 inches in 1978-79. That was the winter after which Chicagoans, frustrated by the miles of unplowed and impassible side streets and alleys in the city, handed maverick Democratic candidate Jane Byrne a victory in the April mayoral primary, from which she went on to victory in the general election. On occasion, winter weather can be a political force.

Chances for a new seasonal snowfall record: 9 percent

By Meteorologist Richard Koeneman

In 130 years of snowfall records dating from 1884, the snow season of 1978-79 reigns supreme as Chicago’s snowiest; 89.7 inches of snow buried the city then. This winter’s cumulative snow totals are nearly as impressive. As recorded officially at O’Hare International Airport, the season’s snow tally now stands at 79.1 inches — and that is 10.7 inches shy of a new record. But Chicago’s snow season still has a few weeks to run. What is the chance that this snow season will establish a new snowfall record? Nine percent. Twelve seasons of the last 129 — nine percent of the seasons — brought at least 10.7 inches of snow after March 13.

First use of “blizzard”

Although the origin of the word “blizzard” is obscure, the word originated in the United States and its first use was possibly on March 14, 1870, to describe a storm that produced heavy snow and high winds in Minnesota and Iowa.

Snow totals and snow days pushing toward records

By Meteorologist Richard Koeneman

If your perception is that it has snowed frequently this winter, you’re absolutely correct. On average, Chicago experiences measurable snow (at least 0.1 inch) on 29 days during the snow season, but as of March 12 the city had already logged 47 days with measurable snow. Given that the city’s snow season frequently extends into early April, it’s conceivable this season’s ultimate tally of snow days might exceed the record 53 days logged in the snow season of 1961/62.

The slushy snow that deposited 3 to 8 inches of snow across the Chicago area Tuesday night put down 6.0 inches at Midway Airport. That brings the seasonal snow total to 85.2 inches at that observation site, only 4.5 inches shy of Chicago’s full-season snow record of 89.7 inches. The Tuesday night snow was the season’s “wettest” snow, with a snow-to-meltwater ratio of 9 to 1.

Season snow totals build toward Chicago’s all-time record

By Meteorologist Richard Koeneman

Walt Kelly (1913-1973), creator of the comic strip “Pogo,” once remarked, “What’s good about March? Well, for one thing, it keeps February and April apart.” Kelly understood that March, more than any other month, can manifest the temperature and weather characteristics of both winter and summer.
This year, Chicago’s March is off to a decidedly tumultuous start, and, following a cold and snowy winter, the city is approaching a snowfall milestone. The overnight storm that delivered thunderstorms and heavy, wind-driven snow has carried this snow season’s cumulative snowfall to within striking distance of the city’s all-time snowfall record: 89.7 inches during the winter of 1978-79. As of March 11, the season snow total stood officially at 75.5 inches as measured at O’Hare International Airport (and 79.2 inches at Midway Airport).

The North Pacific-US connection

By Richard Koeneman

As Chicago slides ever more deeply into the frigid pit of a brutal winter, it stretches credibility to note that it’s being driven by widespread atmospheric warmth across the North Pacific Ocean. The huge expanse of North Pacific water that lies at mid and high latitudes between North America and Asia is abnormally mild — currently 2-6 degrees above normal. That has imparted exceptional warmth to the overlying atmosphere and generated an “atmospheric heat dome,” the north and east boundary of which extends from Alaska southeast into the western US. Jet streams follow that boundary, repeatedly directing bitterly cold polar air masses into the United States. While North America eastward from the Rocky Mountain shivers, Alaska and far western portions of Canada and the United States are experiencing unseasonably mild winter temperatures.