Winter Weather Awareness Week… already?

A Snow Storm covers a playground in Madison in December of '09. Photo credited to Dan Thompson.

A Snow Storm covers a playground in Madison in December of '09. Photo credited to Dan Thompson.

“Happy Winter Weather Awareness Week!” Ok, so you probably won’t see a cake decorated with this phrase when you go to the store. The greeting card isle? I’ve looked but it appears Hallmark is unfamiliar with this event. Of course Winter Weather Awareness Week isn’t a celebrated time but rather a reminder of what we need to prepare for before the snow starts to fall. So here are some of the main points.

The average date for the first 1” snowfall  in Milwaukee is December 2nd. As totals accumulate through the season we typically end up a little less than 50”. As you know a typical winter is pretty rare as the standard deviation for a season’s snowfall can be quite large. For example our wimpy winter of 2011-2012 only produced 29.6” while the pummeling winter of 2008-2009 piled 99.1” on us. Often times NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center gives us clues as to whether our coming season will be harsh or mild. At the start of this fall is appeared our 2012-2013 winter would be mild thanks to El Nino. But our ever changing weather patterns pulled a fast one on us. It now looks like El Nino may reschedule or only make an uninspiring appearance. Thus, the CPC has given us equal chances of a warmer/drier vs. a colder/snowier winter.

As hardy residents of a variable climate most of us adjust pretty well to the colder, darker time of year. I mean come on, even if you hate snow you cannot deny smiling while chucking a well packed snowball at a sibling, friend, unsuspecting coworker. The smaller snowfalls can range from “pleasant surprise” to “minor nuisance”. It’s the winter storms and blizzards that warrant the greatest concern.

The number of winter storms in Wisconsin each winter

Over the last 15 years we’ve averaged 10-15 winter storms per season statewide. The exact definition of a winter storm varies for different parts of the country. For us, a winter storm typically produces 6” of snow or more. However, if a slightly smaller amount falls during an inconvenient time (ie: rush hour) and combines with limited visibilities the event may still be classified as a winter storm. A blizzard is an upgrade from a winter storm and consists of “sustained wind or frequent gusts to 35 miles an hour or greater; and considerable falling and/or blowing snow”.

I’ll spare you the condescending, generic winter safety tips such as “slow down when the road is covered with snow “ and simply cover a few less obvious reminders.

1) During the Groundhog’s Day Blizzard of 2011, high snow drifts suffocated the air intake to furnaces allowing poisonous carbon monoxide to fill homes. Remember to clear away any air intakes before and after heavy snowfalls.

2) If you become stranded while driving and the snow is limiting visibility, tie a bright ribbon to your car’s antenna and wait for help. Often time people who leave their car become lost and disorientated in a snowstorm, or are struck by passing vehicles that do not see them walking alongside the road.

3) Buy stock in an auto body repair business before the first snow, then sell after our winter driver skills are refreshed (if only it were that easy :)

For more info on Winter Weather Awareness week check out the National Weather Service page by clicking here.

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