Chicago’s winters, even those that are relatively mild and snow-free, typically bring more than enough cold temperatures, cloudy skies and snowy days to make us impatient for the milder temps and sunnier weather of spring. Worse still, the meteorological winter (Dec. 1 through Feb. 28) just ended was more harsh than most. Its temperatures ranked among the coldest 32 percent of all Chicago winters and its snowfall (52.4 inches) landed in the snowiest four percent. And with only 33 percent of possible sunshine (versus a normal of 43 percent), it was the city’s least sunny winter in 12 years. March, too, has gotten off to a cloudy and chilly start, but that’s about to change. Higher temperatures and rain, not snow, are forecast in the week ahead. Wintry weather is not over for good — we’ve had arctic blasts and big snows in March – but, in the short term, significantly higher temperatures lie ahead
Has Chicago had more 70-degree highs or subzero lows during the first week of March?
Pat Byrne Hoffman Estates
Both events are rare, but Chicago weather historian Frank Wachowski tells us subzero lows win by the slimmest of margins. Since 1871 the city has recorded 10 days with subzero lows compared to nine days with highs of at least 70 degrees. The tiebreaker was logged eight years ago when the mercury plunged to 7 below on March 4, 2002. Wachowski noted that the city failed to record an early-March 70 until 1974 when the mercury hit 71 degrees March 3 and a high of 80 March 4. In 1983, the city experienced a string of unseasonably warm days with highs of 73, 73, 75 and 70 from March 3 to March 6. Chicago’s last encounter with early-March warmth was in 2000, with back-to-back highs of 70 and 78 on March 6 and 7.
There is no doubt the east coast has been battered this winter with heavy snow and high winds at times but some forecasters are taking a “sky is falling” type approach to their forecasts. Terms like “snowpocalypse” and “snowmageddon” have been bantered about in an effort to hype storms and grab attention by some east coast forecasters. The latest term used to describe a particularly fierce storm that affected the New England area at the end of last week stirred up some controversy. The term was “snowicane” and it seemed to imply a snowstorm with the strength of a hurricane. Hurricanes officially must have sustained winds (not just gusts) of 74 mph. That did not occur over land although there were some gusts over 90 mph in the Atlantic off the coast.
Back at home, our forecast calls for some of the warmest weather in nearly three months by the end of this weekend. We may see three days in a row with highs of 40 or above. The last time we managed that was at the end of November and the start of December last year.
It’s a heat wave!
Sorry about the hype….
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 characteristics of both winter and summer. This year, Chicago’s March is off to a decidedly wintry start, but big changes are on the way. Daytime highs, six degrees below normal today, will climb to a rainy eight degrees above normal by Sunday.
Meteorological spring begins today
Today marks the start of meteorological spring, the three-month period from March 1 through May 31.
For meteorologists, a season is considered to be a division of the year according to some regularly recurrent weather phenomena. In the mid-latitudes, seasons are based upon the annual cycle of heat and cold; in the tropics (which lack significant temperature fluctuations through the year), seasons are often described in terms of the annual cycle of rain.
– Richard Koeneman, WGN-TV Meteorologist